U.S. stocks closed out a year of double-digit gains and the S&P's best December since 1991 with a quiet and little changed session on Friday as investors found no reason to make big bets ahead of the new year.

Improving economic indicators late in 2010 and stimulative measures from the U.S. Federal Reserve propelled gains in the second half of the year, overcoming headwinds from Europe's sovereign debt crisis and continued high U.S. unemployment.

The gains marked a recovery to the market's levels before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. For the year the S&P climbed 12.8 percent, the Dow added 11 percent and the Nasdaq surged 16.9 percent.

Friday's session, however, had none of the vibrancy or volatility that characterized the year. Indexes ended mostly flat on light trading volume, though profit taking slightly weighed on the Nasdaq.

Since the volume is so low, you can't extrapolate any message that's coming from the market, especially since there's no news coming out, said Bernard Baumohl, managing director and chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group in Princeton, New Jersey.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 7.80 points, or 0.07 percent, at 11,577.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 0.24 points, or 0.02 percent, at 1,257.64. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 10.11 points, or 0.38 percent, at 2,652.87.

The Nasdaq was pressured by Netflix Inc and F5 Networks Inc , two stocks have performed well this year. Netflix gained 226 percent in 2010 but sank 2.3 percent to $175.70 on Friday. F5 Networks Inc , up 150 percent this year, fell 1.7 percent to $130.16.

Drugstore chain CVS Caremark Corp agreed to buy Universal American Corp's Medicare prescription drug business for about $1.25 billion. Universal American surged 40 percent to $20.45, while CVS slipped 0.7 percent to $34.77.

U.S.-listed shares of IMAX Corp jumped 4.5 percent to $28.07 after Britain's Daily Mail reported that Sony Corp <6758.T> might bid at least $40 per share for the big-screen movie company. Sony denied the report.

A good deal of 2010's rally occurred in the first half December, after President Obama announced a deal to extend Bush-era tax rates and a number of positive economic datapoints.

The S&P 500 gained 6.5 percent in the month while the Dow climbed 5.2 percent and the Nasdaq rose 6.2 percent.

The second half of the month was marked by seasonally low trading volume that was exacerbated by a blizzard in the U.S. Northeast, resulting in anemic market movement. In the final week of the year, the Dow hardly budged while the S&P rose a mere 0.1 percent. The Nasdaq fell 0.5 percent in the week.

That we're avoiding a sell-off today encourages the idea that we could break to the upside in January, said Keith Springer, president of Springer Financial Advisors in Sacramento, California.

Investors will closely watch a host of data next week for any incentives to take profits or extend the rally, including new reads on construction spending, same-store sales and the services sector.

Almost four stocks rose for every three that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, while on the Nasdaq almost three stocks fell for every two that rose.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)