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Stocks waver as plunging oil prices pull energy stocks lower

The NYSE is bathed in holiday light on

The NYSE is bathed in holiday light on Tuesday in Manhattan. Photo Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

After two days of steep losses, stocks ended the day back where they started on Tuesday. Energy companies sank as crude oil plunged 7 percent, but technology and consumer-focused companies climbed.

U.S. crude oil fell to its lowest price since August 2017, and it has now fallen almost 40 percent since early October. Investors are worried that supplies continue to increase and that demand is slowing as the global economy weakens. The plunge in oil prices has hurt energy company stocks in recent weeks.

The Federal Reserve started its last meeting of the year. Investors expect it to raise interest rates on Wednesday when the meeting concludes.

There haven't been any big developments in U.S.-China trade talks, a major focus for markets, since the beginning of this month. JJ Kinahan, chief markets strategist for TD Ameritrade, said that's left investors confused about the state of the trade dispute and reluctant to commit to stocks, while businesses aren't spending.

"People can't plan," he said. "When you can't plan, you're not anxious to buy stocks."

The S&P 500 index inched up 0.22 points to 2,546.16, but is still trading at its lowest levels in 14 months. The Dow industrials added 82.66 points, or 0.4 percent, to 23,675.64. The Nasdaq composite gained 30.18 points, or 0.4 percent, to 6,783.91.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies lost another 0.97 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,377.18. The index is 21 percent below the peak it set in August, meaning it's in what Wall Street calls a "bear market."
 

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