Updated from 4:14 p.m. ESTBuyers did their work early and then took the afternoon off, leaving stocks narrowly mixed at the close of trading Monday. The Dow Jones industrial Average finished up 3.76 points, or 0.03%, at 12,490.78, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 5.60 points, or 0.23%, to 2441.09. The S&P 500 was lower by 1.56 points, or 0.11%, at 1420.62. "This is just the latest signal that the bulls and bears remain evenly matched," said Ken Tower, chief market strategist with CyberTrader. "Each one attacks the other, but neither can make any headway. It's a rangebound market." Gains of 1.8% in Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) and Intel ( INTC) benefited the Dow. The Nasdaq got help from Activision ( ATVI) and Juniper Networks ( JNPR), both higher by 2.8%. Roughly 2.70 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange. Advancers beat decliners by a 9-to-7 margin. Volume on the Nasdaq reached nearly 1.97 billion shares, with winners outpacing losers 3 to 2. Weighing on equities were worries about the Federal Reserve and when it might cut rates. For the past few months, traders have been looking for data that show a healthy economy, but not one that's growing so rapidly as to cause significant delays in rate reductions. Outlier numbers on either side of investors' expectations about the economy -- whether showing terrific growth or substantial softness -- have generally led to selloffs in stocks. The policymaking Federal Open Market Committee meets Tuesday and Wednesday, but no change is expected in rates.
"We should see a shift from eyeing crude and energy prices to watching bonds," said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald. "While very few expect the Fed to hike rates at this meeting, the language could be a little more hawkish than some are anticipating. The strength in housing and some solid economic numbers have taken away any need to ease rates anytime soon." Yields on Treasuries rose. The 10-year was down 4/32 in price to yield 4.89%, and the 30-year bond was off 10/32 and yielding 4.99%. The dollar was mixed against the world's other major currencies. As for the day's earnings, Dow component Verizon ( VZ) posted fourth-quarter profits of $1.03 billion, or 35 cents a share, falling from $1.67 billion, or 59 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Excluding items, Verizon earned 62 cents a share, which beat the Thomson First Call average estimate by a penny. Verizon ended with a gain of 20 cents, or 0.5%, at $38.03. Schering-Plough ( SGP) was in line with estimates, and profits at Tesoro Petroleum ( TSO) were stronger than expected. Toymaker Mattel ( MAT) posted fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that easily topped forecasts. Elsewhere, Symantec ( SYMC) signed an agreement to acquire Altiris ( ATRS) in an $830 million deal. Symantec was off 1.4% to close at $17.52, while Altiris surged 19.9% to $32.55.
Also in the M&A realm, a report out of France said that Bristol-Myers Squibb ( BMY) and Plavix marketing partner Sanofi-Aventis ( SNY) might be close to announcing a merger. Shares of Bristol-Myers rose 4.7% to $27.43. Sanofi-Aventis was down 1.7% at $44.57. On the research front, A.G Edwards upgraded its ratings on Home Depot ( HD) and Lowe's ( LOW) to buy from hold. Home Depot was lower by 0.1%, while Lowe's finished with a gain of 0.3%. Commodities were mainly weaker. Crude oil futures fell $1.41 to close at $54.01 a barrel, and natural gas was off 26 cents to $6.91 per million British thermal units. Gold was lower by $1.50 at $643.20 an ounce, and silver was down 12 cents to finish at $13.25 an ounce.