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Dow finishes up, Nasdaq down amid thin trading

by Pallavi GogoiDavid K. Randall
| December 29, 2010 8:00 PM

NEW YORK - Stocks closed barely changed Tuesday amid light trading ahead of the New Year's holiday.

The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average finished slightly higher, though stocks had dipped earlier on disappointing consumer confidence and home prices reports.

The Dow edged up after Treasury prices fell in the wake of a weak bond auction in the afternoon. Fewer than expected buyers emerged for the government's auction of $35 billion five-year bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.49 percent from 3.34 percent late Monday.

The Dow closed the day higher by 20.51 points, or 0.2 percent, to 11,575.54. It was the highest close for the index since August 28, 2008.

The Standard and Poor's 500 index was up 0.97, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,258.51. The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index lost 4.39, or 0.2 percent, to 2,662.88.

Earlier in the day, the Conference Board announced that consumer confidence in the economy slid to a level of 52.5 in December, down from 54.3 in November, as Americans continued to fret about the high rate of unemployment. The market was expecting a slightly higher reading because of signs of improved consumer spending in the Christmas holiday season this year.

"The spending patterns this Christmas looks better, but unemployment continues to be a big question," said Kim Caughey Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group.

Another factor weighing on the minds of traders is fear that the housing market will continue to fall. Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller said Tuesday that home prices fell 1.3 percent in October from a month earlier.

Home prices slid across the country, including the biggest cities. Prices were down 2.9 percent in Atlanta, 2 percent in Chicago, and 1.9 percent in San Francisco.

Energy and materials companies were posting gains as the price of crude oil gained. Chevron Corp. led Dow gainers, rising 1.2 percent to finish at $91.19.

American Express Co. had the largest fall, losing 0.6 percent to $42.79.

In corporate news, General Motors Co. gained 2.1 percent to close at $35.32 after a handful of analysts from investment banks that underwrote the automaker's IPO initiated coverage with favorable ratings.

Home builder Beazer Homes USA Inc. fell 4.5 percent to $5.37 on the disappointing home prices report.

The dollar slid to a 7-week low versus the Japanese yen Tuesday in thin post-Christmas trading, but rose against the euro and pound.

Consolidated volume on the New York Stock Exchange was 2.2 billion shares, about half the usual volume on Wall Street. Trading is expected to be light for most of the week as many investors have already closed their books for the year.

Falling shares narrowly outpaced rising ones on the New York Stock Exchange.