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MARKET SNAPSHOT: Stocks End Lower On Year's Lightest Volume

02/11/2013 | 05:03pm US/Eastern
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By Wallace Witkowski and Polya Lesova, MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks finished slightly lower Monday on the lightest volume trading day of 2013, as energy and retail shares underperformed and investors reassessed a rally that's lifted benchmark indexes 6% this year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) never rose above its Friday close and ended down 21.73 points, or 0.2%, to finish at 13,971.24, with 16 of its 30 components ending down. The index traded within a narrow 53-point range throughout the session.

On the Dow, shares of Home Depot Inc. (>> The Home Depot, Inc.) and UnitedHealth Group Inc. (>> UnitedHealth Group Inc.) led the decline, falling about 1%. Shares of blue-chips Microsoft Corp. (>> Microsoft Corporation) and Pfizer Inc. (>> Pfizer Inc.) gained about 1%.

The S&P 500 Index (SPX) slipped 0.92 point, or less than 0.1%, to close at 1,517.01, with 7 out of its 10 major sectors trading lower. The benchmark rose 0.3% last week, gaining for a sixth consecutive week.

Energy stocks led the decline even as crude futures traded higher Monday and refiners held onto recent gains.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite index (RIXF) fell 1.87 points, or less than 0.1%, to close at 3,192.

Trading volume was at its lowest volume of the year, bumping Friday's low volume for that honor. Volume of NYSE-listed shares was 2.6 billion. For Nasdaq-listed shares, it was 1.54 billion. For the year to date, average daily volume is 3.59 billion for NYSE-listed shares, and 1.9 billion for Nasdaq-listed shares, according to Barclays.

Declining stocks outnumbered gainers by about 16 to 13 on the NYSE, and slightly outnumbered them on the Nasdaq.

"Largely absent any news, I'd say markets are working off an overbought phase and taking a pause," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

Stocks have been trading near five-year highs, raising the possibility the market might be able to break out of its long period of lackluster performance, or what's known as a secular bear market.

Goldman Sachs has grown cautious on global equities in the near term, cutting its recommendation to neutral from overweight on a three-month basis.

Most Asian markets were closed, eliminating one more possible driver for the market, said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG.

While Monday may be lacking catalysts, retail sales data on Wednesday will likely have a big effect on stocks, according to a note from Citi's Steven Englander.

With higher taxes kicking in on Jan. 1, "retail sales will be the first really hard data on the impact of the tax hike," Englander said.

Economists polled by MarketWatch forecast sales to show a scant 0.1% seasonally adjusted increase, reflecting the expiration of a payroll tax cut, higher gasoline prices, and delayed tax refunds.

The only other possible market catalyst in the next day or two is President Barack Obama's annual State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Shares of Google Inc. (>> Google Inc) declined 0.4% after the Internet-search firm said late Friday that its chairman, Eric Schmidt, planned to sell nearly half of his stake in the company.

In the currency markets, the dollar (EURUSD) fell against the euro, but the U.S. dollar Index (DXY) , which measures the greenback against a basket of six other currencies, was trading at 80.35, compared with 80.25 late Friday.

News reports said officials from the Group of Seven nations continue to weigh the possibility of issuing a statement aimed at averting a so-called currency war. A pair of officials from the Group of 20 told Reuters that a G-7 statement could be released ahead of the meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bankers in Moscow this week.

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