Stocks barely budged on Tuesday as data showing a rise in consumer confidence was offset by home prices stalling in October.
In a low-volume session in a short holiday week, shares of home builders and oil companies ranked among the weaker performers as investors weighed the data on housing and consumer confidence -- two sectors considered crucial for a recovery.
The Conference Board's index of consumer confidence rose more than expected in December to a reading of 52.9, a three-month high.
The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas was unchanged in October, falling short of expectations for an increase of 0.2 percent. The news sent the Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction index <.DJUSHB> down as much as 1.6 percent in morning trade, although by early afternoon, that loss had been trimmed to 0.8 percent.
The data shows that broadly speaking, consumers are optimistic, but remain unenthusiastic about current conditions, said Jim Baird, chief investment strategist at Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
We're seeing gradual improvement that suggests a muted recovery.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> added 9.97 points, or 0.09 percent, to 10,557.05. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> slipped 1.11 points, or 0.10 percent, to 1,126.67. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> lost 3.50 points, or 0.15 percent, to 2,287.58.
Shares of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co , which makes Tide detergent and Crest toothpaste, climbed after the consumer confidence data and gave the Dow a lift. P&G was up 0.8 percent at $61.74 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Weighing on the Nasdaq was iPod and iPhone maker Apple Inc , which slid 1.1 percent to $209.20 after hitting recent highs. The stock was pressured as Nokia Corp said it filed a complaint against Apple with the International Trade Commission in a patent dispute.
But a bright spot was provided by Amazon.com Inc , which gained 0.5 percent to $140.02 on Nasdaq after two brokerages raised their price targets on the stock.
If the S&P 500 ends the day higher, it will be the broad market index's seventh straight positive session. Stocks have mostly inched up in recent days, as investors focus on 2010.
Trading volume was light in an abbreviated week, with only four trading days and many market players on vacation between Christmas and New Year's. On Friday, U.S. financial markets will be closed for the New Year's Day holiday.
In corporate news, United Community Banks Inc fell 5 percent to $3.24 after the company temporarily suspended its stock dividend in a move to improve liquidity.
(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal)