By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed in thin trading on Monday as the S&P 500 notched its latest record high, but gains were curbed when an early rally in energy prices lost momentum.
Equities have trended to the upside of late, buoyed by data showing an improving economy and the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to be "patient" about raising interest rates. After the S&P 500 gained nearly 6 percent over the prior eight sessions, it notched its 53rd record close of the year on Monday.
The S&P energy index (.SPNY) advanced 0.3 percent, pulling back from a gain of more than 1 percent as Brent (LCOc1) and U.S. crude oil (CLc1) turned lower. Brent settled down $1.57 at $57.88 and U.S. crude settled down $1.12 at $53.61 a barrel.
In contrast to the fall in oil prices, consumer discretionary names (.SPLRCD) were among the day's best performers, up 0.7 percent. General Motors (GM.N) rose 2.6 percent to $34.60. The S&P 500 retail sector (.SPXRT) rose 0.8 percent as Macy's Inc (M.N) advanced 1.8 percent to $65.22 and Amazon.com (AMZN.O) was up 1 percent to $312.04.
"The nearer-term picture is, consumers are enjoying lower gas prices, it’s almost as if it is an alleviation of taxes," said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital LLC in Bernardsville, New Jersey.
"Someone is getting hurt in this while the consumer is benefiting, and at some point it could come back to bite the market and the economy."
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) fell 15.48 points, or 0.09 percent, to 18,038.23, the S&P 500 (.SPX) gained 1.8 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,090.57 and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) added 0.05 points to 4,806.91.
The speed and scale of the rally could cap further upside, especially in the final trading week of the year, when many market participants are out on holiday and catalysts are limited. Volume is expected to remain light, which could exacerbate volatility. The stock market will be closed on Thursday for New Year's Day.
About 4.78 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges on Monday, well below the 7.18 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.
Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O) rose 3.7 percent to $97.30 as one of the S&P 500's biggest percentage gainers after Morgan Stanley upgraded the stock to "overweight" from "equal-weight."
LiveDeal Inc (LIVE.O) jumped 19.1 percent to $3.92 on volume of 13.6 million shares, to dwarf its 50-day average of about 455,000 shares, after the company reported 2014 results.
NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 1,800 to 1,299, for a 1.39-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,438 issues rose and 1,320 fell for a 1.09-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 68 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 160 new highs and 39 new lows.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)