U.S. stocks were little changed on Friday, the final day of the year, as investors were reluctant to make big bets after a rally that put the S&P on track for its best December performance in nearly two decades.

The benchmark index has gained 6.6 percent so far this month, closing Wednesday at its highest level since September 8, 2008, and has risen in 17 of the last 21 sessions. The index is on course for its biggest December gain since 1991, when it rose 11.2 percent.

From its July low the S&P has risen 23 percent, boosted by improving economic data, positive earnings reports and stimulus measures by the U.S. Federal Reserve. Investors will closely watch a host of data next week for any incentives to take profits or extend the rally.

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.

Baumohl said while some stocks that have performed well recently could be pressured by profit taking today, the strong gains over the past month shows that investors are more confident in the economic outlook.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 9.46 points, or 0.08 percent, at 11,579.17. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 0.28 points, or 0.02 percent, at 1,257.60. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 10.94 points, or 0.41 percent, at 2,652.04.

The Nasdaq was pressured by Netflix Inc and F5 Networks Inc , two stocks have performed well this year. Netflix gained more than 220 percent in 2010 but sank 2 percent to $176.15 on Friday. F5 Networks Inc , up 150 percent this year, fell 1.8 percent to $130.07.

Volume is expected to remain weak as the U.S. government and many businesses are closed on Friday on observance of the New Year's holiday.

It would be easy to sell off today, given how light the volume is and the gains we've had this month and throughout the year, said Keith Springer, president of Springer Financial Advisors in Sacramento, California.

That we're avoiding a sell-off today encourages the idea that we could break to the upside in January.

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 $20.40, while CVS slipped 0.3 percent to $34.90.

U.S.-listed shares of IMAX Corp jumped 17 percent to $31.37 after Britain's Daily Mail reported that Sony Corp <6758.T> might bid at least $40 per share for the big-screen movie company.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)