Stocks ended mixed Monday after a brief afternoon gain that came when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said unemployment and other factors would hold the economy to "moderate" improvements and that rates are likely to remain low.
The comments pushed down the dollar because low interest rates make the currency less attractive. That gave a boost to stocks since a lower dollar can add to profits for U.S. companies that do business overseas. The market's gains evaporated later, however, as the dollar pared its losses.
Dan Deming, a trader with Stutland Equities, said there were simply too few buyers on a day with little new news to keep the upward momentum going.
"It just feels like it's drifting," he said. "The market feels tired."
The fatigue comes as investors find few answers to questions about what investments will be strong in 2010 after a big run in stocks and commodities this year. Many traders have closed their books on the year and are wondering whether slow improvements in the economy will be able to support more stock market gains next year.
The back-and-forth trading Monday followed a brief spike in stocks Friday, when a strong jobs report for November provided one of the best indications yet that the economy is strengthening. The Labor Department said employers cut fewer jobs than at any time since the recession began at the end of 2007, while the unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent from a 26-year high of 10.2 percent.
Stocks had jumped Friday after the employment report but later gave up most of those gains as traders started to worry that the signs of recovery in the economy would lead to higher interest rates. Some analysts say the market overreacted in predicting that rates were due to rise, however.
"We have a slowly recovering economy," said Robert MacIntosh, chief economist at Eaton Vance Management. "I don't think you need to worry about the Fed changing their mind and raising rates anytime soon."
According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.21, or less than 0.1 percent, to 10,390.11. On Friday, the Dow ended with a gain of 23 points after having been up as much as 151 points following the unemployment report.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 2.73, or 0.3 percent, to 1,103.25, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 4.74, or 0.2 percent, to 2,189.61.