Stocks were little changed on Monday as investors digested gains from a slew of recent strong earnings reports, while Wall Street was set for a choppy, low volume day with major European markets closed.
The Dow hit a high for the year last week and is trading near a three-year high. The S&P 500 has moved to the top end of its recent trading range where it is facing resistance at its last high for the year.
Of S&P 500 companies that have reported, 75 percent beat analysts' expectations. That is just above the average over the past four quarters but well above the average of 62 percent since 1994, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Kevin Kruszenski, head of listed trading at KeyBanc Capital Markets in Cleveland, said concern about oil prices was offsetting the positive momentum from earnings. He said the market could track lower as the day progresses. I could see some profit-taking after the advance we've had, he said.
U.S. crude hit its highest level since September 2008 in early trading but turned negative when the stock market opened. Still, Brent traded above $123 a barrel on an escalation of violence in the Middle East, as well as post-election unrest in OPEC member Nigeria.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 29.44 points, or 0.24 percent, to 12,476.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 2.42 points, or 0.18 percent, to 1,334.96. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 0.48 points, or 0.02 percent, to 2,820.64.
This week is another hectic one for earnings with 180 S&P 500 companies set to report their quarterly scorecard.
Among companies reporting on Monday, RadioShack Corp's
Road construction equipment maker Astec Industries Inc
Traders noted that activity would likely be subdued as many major European markets remain closed over the long Easter weekend. U.S. traders are returning after markets were closed on Friday for the Easter holiday.
It's going to be very modest volume today, said John Brady, senior vice president at MF Global in Chicago. It's a day we want to play defense and not offense.
There was evidence of risk aversion in the market. Silver jumped more than 5 percent and gold rose to a record as investors sought shelter against a weaker dollar, while prices of grains and crude oil surged on supply fears.
The CBOE VIX volatility index <.VIX> rose more than 6 percent after falling last week to its lowest level since 2007.
The U.S. Federal Reserve is meeting this week and will hold the first of four press conferences per year on Wednesday. Investors are looking for clues about the direction of monetary policy when the Fed's bond buying program ends in June.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry)