U.S. stocks meandered between small gains and losses Monday, cooling off after a rally that had pushed the Standard & Poor's 500 index above 1,500 for the first time since December 2007.

Encouraging news about manufacturing provided an early boost, but stocks fell later after a report on the pace of home sales fell short of expectations.

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The government said before trading began that orders for long-lasting goods rose in December by 4.6 percent, helped by a 10 percent gain in orders for new aircraft. The report was a sign of strength for the manufacturing sector, a crucial driver of economic growth.

Heavy equipment maker Caterpillar said separately that its fourth-quarter net income exceeded analysts' expectations, after adjusting for the cost of a soured deal to buy a Chinese company.

The Dow Jones transportation index, a proxy for future economic activity, edged higher.

The National Association of Realtors said its index of pending home sales fell in December, suggesting that sales of previously occupied homes may slow in the coming months.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 14.05 points at 13,881.93. The S&P fell 0.18 percent to 1,500.18. The Nasdaq composite index was up 0.15 percent to 3,154. -- AP