Major U.S. stock indexes were little changed in a low-volume session on Wednesday, but some investors were encouraged to see equities avoid a sell-off amid lingering euro zone's debt problems.
Indexes held on to the previous day's large gains even as the euro dropped sharply against the dollar. Notably, U.S. banks held up well, even though bad news in Europe centered around the difficulties for some European lenders.
Tight credit markets are making it expensive for European banks to raise capital and for euro-zone countries to refinance debt. The latest sign of stress came from Italy's biggest bank, UniCredit, which fell nearly 10 percent after it offered to sell 7.5 billion euros ($9.8 billion) in shares at a steep discount to shore up its balance sheet.
A gauge of European bank shares dropped 1.6 percent, but in New York the KBW bank index added 0.34 percent.
Some of what's been going on in the last weeks is the U.S. is starting to delink from Europe, said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.
Not that we've totally isolated ourselves, but the fact you're seeing more days when the euro is off and the market here is up is evidence of some delinking, he said. If the U.S. economy is growing again, it's much less vulnerable to external shocks.
Investors were encouraged by a sharp rise in new orders for U.S. factory goods in November, further evidence the economy is recovering.
The euro, which moved in lockstep with equities for most of the past quarter, slumped to its lowest level against the dollar in nearly a week.
The once-tight relationship between the S&P 500 and the euro continues to fray. The 50-day correlation coefficient between S&P e-mini futures and the single currency fell to 0.22, its lowest since mid-September. A perfect correlation score is 1; a score of 0 indicates no correlation.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 21.04 points, or 0.17 percent, to 12,418.42. The S&P 500 Index edged up 0.24 point, or 0.02 percent, to 1,277.30. The Nasdaq Composite dipped 0.36 point, or 0.01 percent, to 2,648.36.
U.S. new vehicle sales released on Wednesday showed automakers ended the year with strong sales, but they forecast lower growth in 2012.
GM shares rose 0.5 percent to $21.15, while Ford added 1.5 percent to $11.30.
Netflix Inc, down more than 60 percent last year, led consumer stocks higher with a 11.4 percent rise to $80.45. The S&P consumer discretionary sector rose 0.7 percent.
Yahoo Inc shares fell 3.1 percent to $15.78 after it named PayPal president Scott Thompson as its chief executive, taking over on January 9 from interim CEO Tim Morse, who will resume his role as chief financial officer.
AT&T Inc agreed on Tuesday to pay TiVo Inc a minimum of $215 million and additional monthly licensing fees to settle a patent infringement dispute. AT&T shares gained 0.2 percent to $30.43, and TiVo jumped 10.1 percent to $9.82.
On the New York Stock Exchange 1,541 issues declined and 1,465 advanced, and on Nasdaq 1,521 declined and 963 advanced.
About 6.23 billion shares changed hands on the NYSE, Nasdaq and Amex, compared with last year's daily average of about 7.84 billion shares.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)