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S&P ends day with minor gains, Dow, Nasdaq slightly off

By msnbc.com staff and news services

Stocks continued their 2012 rally Monday, barely, as the S&P 500 finished slightly higher.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average ended down 11.66 points, or 0.09 percent, at 12,708.82. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 0.62 points, or 0.05 percent, to 1,316.00. The Nasdaq Composite Index was off 2.53 points, or 0.09 percent, at 2,784.17.

The major indexes jumped immediately after the opening bell and swooned by midday. They remained lower most until the last two hours, managing to climb back to positive territory.

Developments in the euro zone including the terms of a likely Greek default remained a concern for investors.

Despite the lull, stocks are off to a strong start in 2012. Investors' biggest fears have slowly faded. Stronger than expected job growth in the U.S. and falling borrowing costs for European governments have helped the S&P 500 index post gains on 11 of 13 trading days.

For the year, the Dow is up about 4 percent, the S&P about 4.5 percent. "In our view, optimistic sentiment and lightly traded volume are the two key technical concerns that have raised an early warning flag and indicate that the trend should soon flatten," said Ari Wald, equity analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.

"Looking ahead to the coming weeks to months, we would be watchful for a new bull market high that goes unconfirmed by our indicators, or if volume on declining days begins to outpace volume on advancing days. This would be a signal for a more meaningful correction.

According to Thomson Reuters data, 15 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings, with 59 percent posting results above Wall Street expectations.

While the percentage of fourth-quarter earnings reports that beat estimates has trailed recent quarters, the rate is expected to improve as earnings season picks up steam. This week 117 S&P 500 companies are expected to report earnings.

Pressuring market sentiment, the euro zone crisis was still lurking in the background. Germany and France pushed for a deal between Greece and its private creditors and said they remained dedicated to a new bailout that is needed by March to stave off a default. Euro zone finance ministers could decide later Monday what debt restructuring terms they would accept.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.