U.S. stocks struggle to move higher

After a robust snap-back rally last week, U.S. stocks struggled to keep momentum on Monday in a shortened Christmas week.

The S&P 500 SPX, +0.11% hovered near the flatline, as sharp losses in energy stocks were a drag on the index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.54% was up slightly, with 25 of its components trading higher. The Nasdaq Composite COMP, +0.21% was also edging up.

Market reaction to mixed economic data was muted. Sales of existing homes in November slowed down to the weakest pace in six months, in a further sign that the housing market remains fragile. Separately, a report on economic growth from the Chicago Fed came in stronger than expected.

U.S. indexes gave a stellar performance last week, ending with their biggest weekly gains since October, after the Federal Reserve said it’ll be “patient” on the timing of its first rate hike.

“With a quiet day, the Dow may not be able to reach the mythic 18,000 level; however, as long as oil continues its marginal rally, the U.S. markets can relax ahead of Christmas Day on Thursday,” said Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex, in a note.

That could be a problem; oil prices reversed gains after a firmer start in the global day.

Stock-market volumes are expected to be thin ahead of the Christmas Day holiday on Thursday. Christmas Eve typically sees the lowest trading volumes of the year as investors check out early or take the day off. U.S. stock markets close 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Dec. 24 and are closed on Dec. 25. But it’s business as usual on New Year’s Eve.

Oil resumes slide: Stock markets were initially buoyed by a rally in oil prices, but gains were short-lived. Crude oil CLG5, -2.01% at one point reclaimed $58 a barrel but was last trading 1.8% lower at $56.10. Brent oil LCOG5, -1.27% was trading below $61 a barrel.

Oil-related stocks sagged, tracking crude prices closely: shares of Nabors Industries Ltd NBR, -7.12% Newfield Exploration Company NFX, -5.37% and Chesapeake Energy Corp CHK, -6.72% each fell nearly 6%.

Data: Sales of existing homes fell 6.1% in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday. This is the weakest level in six months. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected the sales rate to decline to 5.18 million in November from an originally reported 5.26 million in October.

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