U.S. stocks fluctuate with S&P 500 set for best year since 1997

U.S. stocks fluctuated, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index reached an all-time high last week and headed toward its biggest annual gain since 1997.

Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) declined 2.2%, retreating for the third straight trading session. Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR) fell 2%, extending losses after a 13% drop on Dec. 27. Walt Disney Co. jumped 2.2% after an analyst upgrade. Crocs Inc. rose 21% after saying its chief executive officer will retire and Blackstone Group LP will invest $200 million in convertible preferred stock in the maker of colorful plastic clogs.

The S&P 500 (CME:SPH14) fell less than 0.1% to 1,840.47 at 3:20 p.m. in New York. The benchmark index is poised for a 29% gain this year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (CBOT:DJH14) rose 11.65 points, or 0.1%, to 16,490.06 today. Trading in S&P 500- listed stocks was 34% below the 30-day average at this time of day.

“It’s a slow market right now without any dramatic news and I don’t see much happening between now and trading through close tomorrow,” John Carey, a fund manager at Pioneer Investment Management, which oversees about $220 billion, said in a telephone interview. “Then we’re off to the races in the new year.”

The S&P 500 has gained 1.9% in December, heading for its fourth straight monthly advance. The gauge climbed 3.7% from Dec. 13 through Dec. 27, its biggest two-week rally since July, as the Federal Reserve announced plans to reduce the pace of bond buying amid faster-than-estimated economic growth. Three rounds of stimulus, known as quantitative easing, have sent the S&P 500 up 172% from a 12-year low in 2009.

Home Sales

Pending home sales increased 0.2%, the first gain in six months, after a 1.2% drop in October that was larger than initially reported, the National Association of Realtors said today in Washington. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 1% advance.

Five years after the equity bull market started, U.S. investors returned to stocks in 2013, just in time for the best relative returns versus bonds on record.

Exchange-traded and mutual funds investing in shares took in about $162 billion, the most since 2000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and the Investment Company Institute. At the same time, the S&P 500’s 29% advance has beaten government debt by 32 percentage points, the widest spread since at least 1978, according to data compiled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Bloomberg.

“The equity culture is not dead,” Joseph Quinlan, the chief market strategist at Bank of America Corp.’s U.S. Trust, said in a Dec. 13 phone interview from New York. His firm oversees $333 billion in client assets. “We kind of lost sight of the fact that equities still provide long-term good returns.”

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