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Stocks trading flat entering midafternoon

By msnbc.com staff and news services

Stocks trudged upwards enough to trade mostly flat entering midafternoon Wednesday. They had tumbled at the open as Europe’s leaders argued over how to best handle the eurozone’s debt issues.

Approaching 1 p.m. Eastern, The Dow Jones industrial average was up 27.89 points, or 0.23 percent, at 12,177.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.88 points, or 0.07 percent, at 1,257.59. The Nasdaq was 4.40 points lower, or 0.17 percent, at 2,645.08.

Traders hope European leaders will agree by Friday to link their budgets more closely. France and Germany have called on them to renegotiate Europe's founding treaties and allow a central European authority to enforce greater fiscal discipline.

Hopes for a deal dimmed Wednesday when a German official said the governments appear unlikely to reach a deal this week. The official said it could take until Christmas.

"The pattern has been, get your hopes up, then be disappointed by EU summits, and that pattern has been in place for a while," said Steve Van Order, fixed income strategist at Calvert Investment Management.

"I think the hopes (for a deal in the summit) are certainly still there. There's a belief in the marketplace that the euro zone doesn't have a death wish," said Art Hogan, managing director at Lazard Capital Markets in New York.

"There is today's news and we started the week with S&P threatening to downgrade. In another time the market would be down much more than it is."

Trading volume was very light, characteristic of the wait-and-see mode Hogan described ahead of the summit.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.