U.S. stocks meandered sideways Monday as fears about Europe overshadowed recent excitement about central banks' efforts to boost the market.

Stocks opened lower, recovered by midafternoon to nearly flat and closed down modestly.

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An index of business confidence in Germany, the biggest economy in Europe, fell for a fifth straight month. Many economists had expected it to at least remain flat. Some think Germany is headed for a recession.

The threat of the years-old European debt crisis has seemed less immediate in recent weeks as central banks unveiled measures aimed at encouraging investment and boosting the global economy. The German report reignited those fears.

Stocks had risen strongly in recent weeks as traders anticipated, then received, help from the Federal Reserve in the form of an open-ended bond-buying program. The Fed will buy $40 billion of mortgage bonds per month until the economy has improved.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 20.55 points at 13,558.92. The Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 0.2 percent to 1,459.89. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 0.60 percent to close at 3,160.78.

-- AP