Stocks fluctuated in a narrow range Tuesday after reports on home prices and consumer confidence came in largely as expected, showing a gradual improvement in the U.S. economy.
The Conference Board said its index of consumer confidence rose to 52.9 in December from 49.5 in November. That was slightly better than the reading of 52 economists had forecast.
The index is still a long way from what is considered healthy. A reading of 90 or more signals a solid economy. However, the index has risen significantly from a historic low of 25.3 in February.
Earlier Tuesday, Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller said its home price index rose for a fifth straight month in October, edging up 0.4 percent. The index was off 7.3 percent from October last year, roughly in line with expectations.
The index is now up 3.4 percent from its bottom in May, but still almost 30 percent below its peak in April 2006. Only 11 of the 20 cities tracked in the report showed gains.
Stocks rose modestly in early trading, but turned mixed by late morning. Analysts said there were few surprises in the economic data to drive the market one way or the other.
"The reports we're seeing broadly reinforce the expectations we've had," said Jim Baird, partner and chief investment strategist for Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Mich. "It's slow and steady; It's not explosive improvement."
Trading was quiet, as it has been in recent days. Many investors were taking vacation between Christmas and New Year's Day.
Even in light volume though, the market has managed to climb. The Standard & Poor's 500 index has posted gains for six straight days, rising 2.3 percent to reach a new high for the year.
At midday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 11.03, or 0.1 percent, to 10,558.11. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 0.54, or 0.1 percent, to 1,127.24, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 2.54, or 0.1 percent, to 2,288.54.
Reports showing an increase in durable goods orders and a decline in claims for unemployment benefits helped spur the market higher last week. On Monday, investors were encouraged by a jump in retail sales.
Tim Speiss, chairman of Personal Wealth Advisors practice at Eisner LLP in New York, said he expects to see the market build on its recent gains at the start of the new year and through the first quarter.
"We're going to be building momentum," he said.
Government bonds were little changed ahead of an auction of $42 billion of five-year notes. The Treasury Department is issuing a total of $118 billion of debt this week as part of its ongoing efforts to fund its stimulus programs.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note held steady at 3.85 percent.
The dollar reversed an early slide and moved higher against other currencies.
Advancing stocks were roughly even with those that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a low 243.6 million shares.
In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 1.08, or 0.2 percent, to 632.67.