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After day in the dumps, S&P, Dow grind out small gains to end day

By msnbc.com staff and wire services

Despite being lower most of Wednesday, stocks closed mixed with the S&P 500 and Dow Jones industrial average posting small gains after a tepid late-session rally.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow finished 4.16 higher, or 0.03 percent, to 12,107.74. The result followed a 337-point gain Tuesday that was the index’s best showing in nearly a month. The S&P rose 2.41, or 0.19 percent, to 1,243.71. The Nasdaq fell 25.76, or 0.99 percent, to 2,577.97.

A disappointing earnings report from Oracle Corp., along with uncertainty over whether Washington will extend a tax cut and surprisingly large loans by the European Central Bank to boost the region's banks, helped drag the market lower.

Oracle plunged almost 14 percent after the business software company said it was struggling to close deals. The results seemed to reinforce worries that businesses and the government may cut back on technology spending. Especially worrying was a weak 2 percent gain in new software licenses, a key sign of demand from other businesses. Oracle had predicted gains of as much as 16 percent.

Outside of the 2 percent decline for technology shares, prices were nearly flat in the rest of the S&P 500's 10 sectors. Prices rose in six of those sectors.

"I think a lot of people are just sitting on their hands until we get into the new year, not wanting to make any big moves in the last week or so," said Bernie Kavanagh, the vice-president for portfolio management at Stifel Nicolaus.

The initial reaction to the $639 billion in lending by the ECB was positive. Investors were glad to see the bank willing to help the eurozone out of its debt crisis. But then worry set in that Europe's banks needed so much help in the first place.

"Long-term, people were a little bit concerned that banks needed more money than we thought they did," said Joe Bell, a senior equity analyst with Schaeffer's Investment Research.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.