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Stocks slip to break six-day winning streak

THE U.S. stock market edged lower yesterday, breaking a six-day advance as reports on home prices and consumer confidence did little to excite buyers.

Major indexes rose modestly in the early going but slipped as the dollar strengthened and tugged on commodities prices. A stronger dollar makes commodities more expensive for foreign buyers.

Trading was quiet, as it has been in recent days, and many investors left at the end of the day for a long New Year's weekend. The low volume held the Dow Jones industrial average to a 36-point range, the narrowest in nearly three years. The modest losses came after stocks had risen for six straight days.

Economic reports looked stronger but failed to galvanize investors. The Conference Board said its index of consumer confidence rose to 52.9 in December from 49.5 in November. That was slightly better than economists had forecast.

The index remains well below what is considered healthy. A reading of 90 or more signals a solid economy. However, the index has jumped from a historic low of 25.3 in February.

Home prices also rose. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller's home price index rose for a fifth straight month in October, edging up 0.4 percent. The index was off 7.3 percent from October last year, roughly in line with expectations.

Analysts said there were few surprises in the economic numbers to drive the market.

"The reports we're seeing broadly reinforce the expectations we've had," said Jim Baird, partner and chief investment strategist for Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Mich. "It's slow and steady; It's not explosive improvement."

The Dow slipped 1.67, or less than 0.1 percent, to 10,545.41. The trading range was the tightest since February 2007 and the fifth straight day when the index has swung by fewer than 70 points.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.58, or 0.1 percent, to 1,126.20, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 2.68, or 0.1 percent, to 2,288.40.

Interest rates fell after a successful auction of US$42 billion of five-year notes. The Treasury Department is issuing US$118 billion in debt this week as part of its efforts to fund its stimulus programs. With so much debt flooding the market, there's been concern this year that demand would diminish. Most auctions though have been able to attract decent demand.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which is used as a benchmark for consumer loans, fell to 3.80 percent from 3.85 percent late Monday.

The dollar reversed an early slide and moved higher against other currencies.

Oil rose 10 cents to settle at US$78.87 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The stronger dollar held oil below US$79. Gold fell.

Tim Speiss, chairman of Personal Wealth Advisors practice at Eisner LLP in New York, said he expects to see the market build on its recent gains at the start of the new year and through the first quarter.

"We're going to be building momentum," he said.

Falling stocks narrowly outpaced those that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 638.3 million shares.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.57, or 0.1 percent, to 633.18.


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