Struggling for direction

Stocks seesaw as investors welcome lower oil prices but hold back after pushing major gauges to multi-year highs last week; weak economic reading, worries about earnings factor too.

NEW YORK ( -- Stocks swayed near midday Tuesday as investors welcomed falling oil prices, but kept an eye on further signs of a weakening economy and some negative corporate news.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (down 0.73 to 12,555.35, Charts) added a few points around 2-1/2 hours into the session, after ending last Friday's session at an all-time high.


The S&P 500 (up 0.01 to 1,430.74, Charts) was little changed, after ending the previous session at its highest point in more than 6 years. The Nasdaq (down 2.75 to 2,500.07, Charts) composite was also little changed, after ending the previous session at its highest point in nearly six years.

All financial markets were closed Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Last Friday, stocks rose as investors welcomed falling oil prices.

Oil prices continued to slide Tuesday, with U.S. light crude oil for February delivery falling $1.73 to $51.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices fell after Saudi Arabia's oil minister said that OPEC production cuts were effective and there was no need for an emergency meeting of the oil cartel.

Investors also took in the morning's economic news. The NY Empire State index, a regional read on manufacturing, fell to 9.1 in January from 22 the previous month. Economists surveyed by thought it would fall to 20 in the month.

Among stock movers, Symantec (down $1.80 to $18.68, Charts) slumped 7 percent in active Nasdaq trading after the web and network security software maker warned that fiscal third quarter and 2007 profit will miss forecasts.

Cisco Systems (down $0.84 to $28.08, Charts) dipped after Prudential downgraded it to "neutral weight" from "overweight," citing limited room for upside surprises in 2007, according to Reuters.

The decline in oil prices also weighed on oil service stocks, with Exxon Mobil (down $0.97 to $71.69, Charts), Valero Energy (down $0.74 to $49.83, Charts) and Sunoco (down $1.14 to $58.69, Charts) all lower.

In other news, an independent panel said BP (down $1.01 to $63.63, Charts) failed to stress safety at its U.S. plants prior to a 2005 Texas City explosion that killed 15.

COMEX gold fell $1.60 to $625.30 an ounce.

That sent metal and mining stocks lower, including Goldcorp (down $0.61 to $25.58, Charts) and Newmont Mining (down $0.96 to $42.25, Charts). The Amex Gold Bugs (down $5.37 to $314.75, Charts) index lost 1.7 percent.

Market breadth was positive. On the New York Stock Exchange, winners beat losers eight to seven on volume of 660 million shares. On the Nasdaq, advancers topped decliners by a narrow margin on volume of 1 billion shares.

Treasury prices rose, lowering the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 4.75 percent from 4.77 percent late Friday. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.

In currency trading, the dollar rose versus the yen and slipped versus the euro.

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