Stocks Hold Most of Recent Gains in Flat Sessions

Stocks meandered from opening to closing bell today without much conviction, with major averages closing lower but all finishing within 5 points of where they started.

Market watchers said the vacuum created by last week’s hectic pace, when unemployment data, a Fed rate hike and the State of the Union speech were crammed within the period of three days, might have left investors in a mood to sit back and wait for new catalysts to either buy or sell.

Flat Equals Good News

The Dow was down just a fraction of a point, losing 0.37 to close at 10,715.76. The Nasdaq lost 4.63 points, or 0.22 percent to 2,082.03 and the S&P 500 shed 1.31 points, or 0.11 percent, to 1,201.72.

Despite the lack of movement, some viewed the flat session as good news because investors did not immediately seek to cash in gains made in Friday’s strong session or over the past two weeks, which saw markets regain their footing after a dismal start to the year in January.

The U.S. dollar continued to gain back some of its sharp recent losses, meanwhile, rising 0.7 percent against the euro and 0.8 percent against the Japanese yen. The movements were attributed to tough talk, and action, from President Bush, who pledged in his speech to Congress last week to rein in deficits.

Today, Bush sent a US$2.57 trillion budget to Congress for the upcoming fiscal year, and it includes steep cuts in some government spending.

Oil, Credit

Oil, meanwhile, continued its steady retreat away from the $50 threshold, giving up $1.20 per barrel in New York Mercantile Exchange to close the session at $45.28.

In the lone bit of economic data released today, the Federal Reserve said U.S. consumers credit hit a record high in December, rising $3.1 billion, or 1.8 percent on an annual basis. The increase was less than forecast.

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