Stocks were little changed in a volatile session on Tuesday as investors struggled to determine whether equities were fairly priced, given persisting uncertainties in Europe.
After opening flat, the S&P and Nasdaq briefly rose as much as 1 percent before paring gains by midday. The CBOE Volatility index <.VIX> was 0.7 percent higher and has soared 54 percent since the start of August.
Industrial issues were higher and big-cap technology shares boosted the Nasdaq, but continued doubt about political support for Greece from European leaders capped gains.
Consumer staple shares were the biggest decliners, weighed by Best Buy Co Inc
Large-cap stocks that pay dividends are viewed by some as relatively safe from market risk.
There are two theories: the idea that stocks are overvalued, given global issues that could signal another recession, and the idea that stocks are cheap by historical standards, said Brian Battle, vice president of trading at Performance Trust Capital Partners in Chicago.
We're going to wrestle around and remain range-bound until we figure out which theory is true.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 9.39 points, or 0.08 percent, at 11,051.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was up 2.83 points, or 0.24 percent, at 1,165.10. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 14.30 points, or 0.57 percent, at 2,509.39.
Best Buy said quarterly sales were flat, missing estimates on weak demand for televisions, but the big consumer electronics chain stood by its fiscal-year revenue outlook. Shares slid 8 percent to $22.97.
In the latest economic data, U.S. import prices fell in August due to lower fuel, food and industrial material costs, the Labor Department said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy were determined to do what is necessary and were going to take action today, a French government source said, but Sarkozy's office denied a joint statement was planned.
Merkel sought to quash talk of an imminent Greek default, saying Europe was doing everything in its power to avoid a default.
About 59 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange rose, while 63 percent of Nasdaq-listed stocks were in positive territory. Volume was below average.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)