Worries about Europe's debt crisis frustrated investors looking for a reason to take shares to new highs for the year as major averages ended flat on Monday.
Even with a slight decline in the S&P 500, analysts still see the benchmark index soon breaking out of its recent range and surpassing its current intraday high for the year just above 1,227 reached on November 5. Technology shares limited losses, and the Nasdaq advanced on positive brokerage comments on Cisco Systems and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp.
In Europe, Germany rejected attempts by euro zone finance ministers to increase the size of a 750 billion euro safety net for debt-stricken members.
A decline in the euro limited the advance for stocks as the two have moved in a tight correlation recently, with the euro acting as a proxy for debt concerns overseas.
Further adding to conflicting sentiment were downbeat comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, which outweighed his attempts to reassure markets the Fed could potentially boost the planned size of its stimulus efforts if necessary.
I was listening to the tone of his voice -- the tone of his voice made me nervous, as a trader and a manager, it made me nervous, said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.
I think he was trying to sell the American people, because he has been under pressure.
Analysts view key resistance for the benchmark index at 1,228 because it's just above the year's high and coincides with the 61.8 percent Fibonacci retracement of the 2007-2009 bear market slide.
If the (euro) problem is again pushed forward and that relief comes off the market, the market will probably push higher here toward new highs into year-end, added Mendelsohn.
Also looking ahead in equities, Goldman Sachs Asset Management Chairman Jim O'Neill, speaking at the Reuters 2011 Investment Outlook Summit in New York, gave a bullish view on stocks, saying global equity markets are likely to see gains of up to 20 percent through 2011.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 19.90 points, or 0.17 percent, to 11,362.19. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> shed 1.59 points, or 0.13 percent, to 1,223.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 3.46 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,594.92.
Volume was light with about 6.27 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, well below the year-to-date average of 8.62 billion.
Declining stocks slightly outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,500 to 1,467, while on the Nasdaq, advancers beat decliners by a ratio of about 4 to 3.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)