Stocks edged lower on Monday after five straight days of gains for the S&P 500 as broker comments knocked consumer staples and investors braced for the start of earnings season.

Stocks got a boost at the open from stronger trade figures from China that helped stoke optimism in the global recovery, but the market soon struggled to keep pace with a rally that has driven the S&P 500 higher for 12 of the last 14 sessions.

After the close on Monday, aluminum giant Alcoa Inc is expected to post a profit of 6 cents per share, compared to a loss of 28 cents a year ago, marking the start of what is widely tipped to be a stronger earnings season. Alcoa shares were last up 2.5 percent to $17.43.

Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. in San Francisco, said the market was running into resistance after a strong run, with positive earnings to provide the next leg up for investors.

The market is focused on earnings and what's going to come out in terms of profit margins, especially in the technology and retail sectors, he said. We got a little ahead of ourselves.

Procter& Gamble
fell 1.8 percent to $59.37 after BMO cut the stock to market perform from outperform as part of its downgrade of the U.S. personal care and household product sector. Colgate-Palmolive Co fell 1.8 percent to $80.05 after BMO cut its price target on the shares by $10 to $80.

The S&P consumer staples sector <.GSPS> fell 0.5 percent and was among the biggest drags on the wider market.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 2.72 points, or 0.03 percent, to 10,615.47. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> dropped 0.10 points, or 0.01 percent, to 1,144.88. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dropped 9.03 points, or 0.39 percent, to 2,308.14.

The Nasdaq was dragged lower by big-cap technology stocks, including Apple Inc , down 0.8 percent to $210.19 and Google Inc , down 0.7 percent to $597.76.

Data from China showed it ended 2009 with record monthly imports of crude oil and soybeans and a strong appetite for iron ore and copper, while its exports rose 17.7 percent year-over-year, dwarfing a forecast for a 4 percent rise.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)