NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks ended a listless session little changed Tuesday as investors weighed reports on consumer confidence and home prices.
The Dow Jones industrial average () eased 3 points, or less than 0.1%, to end at 12,291. The S&P 500 ( ) added less than 1 point to 1,265. The Nasdaq ( ) gained 6 points, or 0.2%, to 2,625.
Trading volumes were well below average, with many market participants taking time off this week for the holidays. Stock markets in the United States and Europe were closed Monday for the Christmas holiday.
"Consumers are definitely showing a ray of hope here," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.
But investors say the market remains vulnerable as the debt crisis in Europe continues to threaten the outlook for the global economy and financial markets.
While many investors have already closed their books for the year, the next few trading days could determine whether the major indexes end 2011 with gains or losses.
On Friday, investors pushed the S&P 500 back into positive territory for 2011 and the Dow up 6% for the year.
"I think we've got a decent chance of ending the year in positive territory, if not close to it," on the S&P 500, said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank.
Still, the bigger question is whether the stock market can continue moving higher in 2012 as economies in Europe and Asia appear to be slowing down, he added.
"The trends developing overseas are negative enough that it will be hard for the U.S. economy to entirely avoid a slow down in the global economy," said McCain.
Meanwhile, oil prices jumped 1.5% after a top Iranian official warned that the nation could block the Strait of Hormuz, a key transit point for oil exports from the Middle East.
The warning, from Iranian vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimi, came as the United States and the European Union have been ratcheting up sanctions on Iran's oil industry in response to the nation's nuclear program.
Companies: Sears Holdings ( , Fortune 500) on Tuesday reported a sharp drop in holiday sales compared to a year ago, and said the results will force it to close 100 to 120 Sears and Kmart stores. Shares plunged 27%.
On Monday, Sony () said it would end its joint venture in liquid crystal display panels with Samsung Electronics.
World markets: European stocks closed mixed. The DAX ( ) in Germany added 0.1% and France's CAC 40 ( ) ended flat. London's market remained closed.
Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite () fell 1.1% and Japan's Nikkei ( ) fell 0.5%. Hong Kong's market was closed.
Gold futures for February delivery lost $10.90 to $1,595.10 an ounce.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury edged higher, with the yield easing to 2.01% from 2.03% late Friday.
|The Deep Web you don't know about|
|Pizza chain Sbarro files for bankruptcy|
|More trouble for Boeing's Dreamliner|
|Clues emerge for Tesla's $5 billion battery factory|
|AT&T cuts prices again|
|Overnight Avg Rate||Latest||Change||Last Week|
|30 yr fixed||4.37%||4.31%|
|15 yr fixed||3.40%||3.32%|
|30 yr refi||4.38%||4.31%|
|15 yr refi||3.39%||3.32%|
Today's featured rates: