U.S. stocks edged lower Monday as investors fixed their attention on the standoff between Greece and its private creditors and a surge in Portugal's borrowing costs.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 6.74 points, or 0.1%, at 12653.72. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index lost 3.32 points, or 0.3%, to 1313.01, and the Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 4.61 points, or 0.2%, to 2811.94. Monday's losses marked the S&P 500's third-straight session in the red.
Stocks got off to a rocky start, with the three major indexes each down by more than 1% in early trading, though they clawed back throughout the day. U.S. equities markets were relatively lightly traded Monday, which some traders said could have contributed to the midafternoon turn higher. Eight of ten sectors on the S&P 500 pulled back Monday, with only telecommunication and technology stocks in positive territory.
Nervousness about European debt weighed on stocks, as European leaders gathered in Brussels amid talk of requirements for greater fiscal discipline among members. An absence of progress on Greece's debt-restructuring deal raised investors' anxiety, and the lack of a deal fanned fears that the region's debt crisis will spread, and Portugal's borrowing costs rose to euro-era highs.
"I think investors have been jumping the gun on Greece," said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates in Toledo, Ohio. "There are a lot of things on the austerity side that have not been addressed, and it's going to be an ongoing process. "
Financial companies led stocks lower after a ratings shake-up on the sector from Goldman Sachs. Bank of America dropped 22 cents, or 3%, to $7.07, the most among blue chips, after Goldman cut its stock-investment rating on the bank to "neutral" from "buy."
The return of worry over the Continent's sovereign-debt issues has disrupted a robust start to the year for U.S. stocks. The Dow has climbed 3.6% this year, while the S&P 500 has gained 4.4%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq is up 7.7% so far in 2012.
"Many investors got a little euphoric in buying. We've been taking profits since the middle of last week, with [January's stock gains] the kind that we expected for the whole year," Lancz said.
Traffic was relatively light in U.S. equities markets Monday, with just over 3 billion shares traded compared with the daily average of 3.9 billion this month.
The week is jammed with U.S. economic data, with January's reading on jobs and unemployment due to take center stage Friday. Monday, data showed Americans' incomes picked up during December, but that more people chose to increase saving instead of spending, a sign that the U.S. economy could remain in slow-growth mode this year.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Manufacturing Index rose more than expected in January, to 15.3 versus the expected 1.5, but the data release did little to alter stocks' direction.
In corporate news, U.S. Steel slipped 1.15, or 3.9%, to 28.73. The company said it expected to record a charge of $400 million to $450 million in the first quarter of 2012 as a result of its plan to sell U.S. Steel Serbia to the Republic of Serbia for a nominal price.
Thomas & Betts rallied 13.36, or 23%, to 71.31 after the company said it agreed to be acquired by Switzerland's ABB for $3.9 billion in cash.
In other deal news, Amylin Pharmaceuticals rose 2.12, or 18%, to 14.26 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the company's diabetes drug Bydureon. The U.S.-listed shares of Ireland's Alkermes, Amylin's partner in the drug, fell 24 cents, or 1.3%, to 18.86. The news was out Friday.
Elsewhere, Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack has agreed to be purchased by private-equity firm Gores Group in a deal that values the auto-repair company at roughly $803.9 million. Shares rose 2.85, or 24%, to 14.93.
Gannett reported a 33% decline in fourth-quarter profit as persistent advertising declines at its newspapers and lower television revenue more than offset growth in the publisher's digital businesses. Shares fell 1.05, or 6.9%, to 14.17 and led the S&P 500 lower.
Staples was also near the bottom of the S&P 500 on Monday. Shares fell 78 cents, or 4.9%, to 15.23 after Goldman Sachs cut its rating to "sell" from "neutral," saying the office supplier will face pressure due to a long-standing decline in paper consumption and that office supplies will trail behind broader corporate spending.
Wendy's gave up 20 cents, or 3.8%, to 5.01 after the fast-food chain reported fourth-quarter earnings that matched estimates. Its outlook for same-store sales growth at company-operated restaurants in North America was below 2011 levels.
US Airways Group climbed 34 cents, or 4.2%, to 8.52 after news Delta Air Lines was studying the air carrier as a possible acquisition target. Delta climbed 36 cents, or 3.7%, to 10.77.
PharMerica slumped 1.69, or 12%, to 12.61 after the Federal Trade Commission filed suit to block Omnicare's bid for the company, saying the combination of the two biggest nursing-home pharmacies would hurt competition. Omnicare's stock edged higher by 0.3%.
Exxon Mobil eased 34 cents, or 0.4%, to 85.49 after the blue-chip oil company said it was selling its subsidiary in Japan for the equivalent of about $3.91 billion as part of a plan to restructure its operations there.
The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 1.1%, as investors grew increasingly anxious about the lack of a Greek debt-restructuring deal. Asian exchanges fell. China's Shanghai Composite lost 1.5% to notch its sixth loss in nine sessions, and Japan's Nikkei Stock Average dropped 0.5%.
Gold futures declined 0.1% to $1731.00 an ounce, while oil futures shed 0.8% to $98.78 a barrel. The dollar edged higher against the euro but fell against the yen. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.82%.
-By Chris Dieterich, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2611; email@example.com