By Sinead Carew
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 ended the day unchanged on Tuesday as lower oil prices hurt energy stocks, offsetting advances in healthcare and financial sectors, while the Nasdaq ended at another record high.
The Dow's 20,000 milestone remained elusive as it was weighed down by declines in IBM (IBM.N), Merck & Co (MRK.N), Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) and Procter & Gamble (PG.N).
Traders were holding fire ahead of the upcoming corporate earnings season and the Jan. 20 inauguration after which they expect a better sense as to whether President-elect Donald Trump will fulfill campaign promises of fiscal stimulus, lower tax and lighter regulation.
"Investors are now waiting for the inauguration and the first 100-day agenda," said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at brokerage Convergex in New York. "They just want a little more information about what the new administration is planning before the Dow takes the plunge over 20,000. There's a lot of high expectations about what happens after January 20."
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) ended down 31.85 points, or 0.16 percent, at 19,855.53, the S&P 500 (.SPX) was unchanged at 2,268.9 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 20.00 points, or 0.36 percent, to 5,551.82.
The S&P Energy sector (.SPNY) ended down 0.95 percent as oil futures fell 2 percent on doubts about output cuts.
Following a 9 percent jump in the S&P since Nov. 4, investors will also monitor earnings season, which starts this week, to assess if the record levels are justified.
"We've shifted from that exuberance post the election and the rotation into some of the sectors and now we are entering a wait-and-see mode with earnings knocking at the front door," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Equity Capital Markets in News York.
"Earnings may be the pivot to move things higher."
S&P 500 companies are set to post their strongest quarterly growth in three years, with earnings estimated to have risen 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter, mainly driven by financials, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The S&P financial sector (.SPSY), which has risen 17.4 percent since the election, closed up 0.4 percent. Bank of America (BAC.N), Wells Fargo (WFC.N) and JPMorgan (JPM.N) - scheduled to report results on Friday - were its biggest drivers on Tuesday with 1.7 percent, 0.7 percent and 0.3 percent rises respectively.
Six of the 11 major S&P sectors ended higher. S&P Healthcare stocks (.SPXHC) gained 0.33 percent and the Nasdaq biotech index (.NBI) ended 0.8 percent higher, both enjoying their sixth session of gains in a row.
Illumina (ILMN.O) surged 16.6 percent to $165.04 after the diagnostics company gave a strong quarterly forecast and launched a new product.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.77-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.90-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 93 new highs and 18 new lows.
More than 6.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges compared with the 6.6 billion average for the last 20 sessions.
(Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru and Caroline Valetkevitch in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and James Dalgleish)