By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks closed little changed on Friday in the first trading session of 2015, finishing well off session highs as economic data short-circuited early gains.
In a sign of tepid economic conditions, construction spending unexpectedly fell 0.3 percent in November, while the pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector slipped to a six-month low in December, according to the Institute for Supply Management.
"The data we got out today basically dampened early enthusiasm," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York. "It's just a little bit of softness but I don’t think it changes the outlook for a stronger economy."
Markets had opened higher in a broad rally, but indexes later lost ground. Volume was light in the wake of the New Year's holiday, which often exacerbates market volatility.
About 5.29 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well below the 6.87 billion average last month, according to BATS Global Markets.
Wall Street had ended the last day of 2014 on a down note, but notched solid gains for the year and fourth quarter.
A 12-day rally of nearly 6 percent through Dec. 29 had sent the S&P 500 to a record high, but the index has lost steam of late to notch its third straight decline. As market participants adjust positions in the new year, they will be questioning whether current levels are justified.
Energy shares gained 0.4 percent, alternating between gains and losses alongside choppy trading in crude oil. Exxon Mobil rose 0.4 percent to $92.83 and Kinder Morgan gained 1.2 percent to $42.81 to lead the sector higher.
U.S. crude settled down 58 cents at $52.69 for its 13th negative week out of the past 14, and is at levels not seen since 2009. Brent crude settled down 91 cents at $56.42 a barrel.
For the week, the Dow closed down 1.2 percent, the S&P off 1.5 percent and the Nasdaq off 1.7 percent.
General Motors shed 0.2 percent to $34.84 after the automaker announced three new vehicle recalls, the biggest involving the ignition-switch design of several SUV and pickup truck models.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 9.92 points, or 0.06 percent, to 17,832.99, the S&P 500 lost 0.7 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,058.2 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.24 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,726.81.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE 1,696 to 1,376, for a 1.23-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,555 issues fell and 1,185 advanced for a 1.31-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 9 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 60 new highs and 24 new lows.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)