updated 2/7/2006 8:17:11 AM ET 2006-02-07T13:17:11

Stocks ended a listless session little changed Monday, as cautious investors found few reasons to put money into the market, even as upbeat remarks on Alcoa Inc. and General Motors Corp. helped prop up the Dow Jones industrials.

Major Market Indices

Monday’s aimless trading followed steep losses late last week, with Wall Street still uneasy about the possibility of more interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve. On Friday, upbeat employment data fueled worries about economic strength, another reason for the Fed to stay its course.

Art Hogan, chief market strategist for Jefferies & Co., said data on jobless claims later this week should draw a reaction from traders as they try to decipher the Fed’s stance on inflation and the pace of domestic employment growth. For now, however, Wall Street will be idle without much news to drive it, he said.

“I think we’re going through this natural vacuum in the news cycle where we have a quiet economic calendar and the fourth-quarter earnings reports are slowing down,” Hogan said. “It’s difficult to generate any interest in the market.”

Meanwhile, news that Iran has stopped cooperating with U.N. officials over its nuclear arms program sparked fears about disruptions from one of the world’s biggest oil suppliers. The price of a barrel of light crude oil wavered on the New York Mercantile Exchange .

The Dow Jones industrial average finished Monday up 4.65 points, or 0.04 percent, having ended last week down 113 points. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was up 0.99 point, or 0.08 percent, at Monday’s close, while the Nasdaq composite index was down 3.78 points, or 0.17 percent.

Bonds slipped, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.54 percent from 4.53 percent late Friday, although the yield curve remained inverted as the two-year note edged up to 4.61 percent. The U.S. dollar was mixed against other major currencies.

Analysts at JPMorgan boosted Alcoa to “overweight” on indications that the market is ignoring strong aluminum prices and their potential impact on earnings, lifting its stock $1.45 to $32.03. JPMorgan also upgraded rival Alcan Inc., which added $1.72 to $49.78.

American International Group Inc., another Dow component, rose 66 cents to $66.01 after The Wall Street Journal said the insurance firm is near a deal with regulators to settle accounting fraud and other allegations.

Several analysts said GM, the world’s biggest automaker, may consider cutting its dividend and review bids for a majority stake in finance unit General Motors Acceptance Corp. GM gained 19 cents to end at $23.34.

Apparel retailer Talbots Inc. said it was buying women’s clothing designer J. Jill Group Inc. for about $517 million in cash, trumping a earlier bid from Liz Claiborne Inc. J. Jill surged $4.37 to $23.57, while Talbots dropped 93 cents to $26.34 and Liz Claiborne fell 5 cents to $34.27.

In earnings news, health benefits provider Humana Inc. said its quarterly profit rose 34 percent, helped by an upswing in Medicare enrollment and sharp gains in its commercial and government segments. Humana nonetheless fell $1.11 to $53.79.

Hasbro Inc., the nation’s No. 2 toymaker, posted a 15 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit as domestic toy sales pushed overall revenue higher. Its shares dropped 13 cents to $20.62, off a multiyear high of $22.35.

Ahead of their earnings reports after the closing bell, entertainment conglomerate Walt Disney Co. gained 3 cents to $25.04 and Pizza Hut parent Yum Brands Inc. rose 67 cents to $51.12. After the close, Disney reported a higher quarterly profit .

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.53 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.23 percent, Germany’s DAX index added 0.17 percent and France’s CAC-40 was lower by 0.06 percent.

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