Stocks close mixed following Greek debt talks

The S&P 500 index eked out a tiny gain Monday while traders kept an eye on talks in Europe to cut Greece's crushing debt load, but other indexes ended slightly lower. The Dow fell 11 points to close at 12708.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, January 23, 2012. Stocks were mixed Monday following talks to ease Greece's debt problems.

The S&P 500 index eked out a tiny gain Monday while traders kept an eye on talks in Europe to cut Greece's crushing debt load and prevent a global financial crisis. Other indexes ended slightly lower.

The S&P added 0.62 of a point to close at 1,316 on Monday. The broad market measure has now closed higher on 12 of 14 days this year.

European stocks and the euro rose after the continent's finance ministers put pressure on banks that hold Greek government bonds to accept new ones that are worth half as much and carry a lower interest rate.

The Greek stock market gained 5 percent, and indexes in Germany, France, Spain and Britain all advanced less than 1 percent. The euro rose more than a penny to $1.302, close to its highest level against the dollar this year.

Negotiators are trying to prevent a disorderly default by Greece in March. The worst-case scenarios include a credit crisis similar to what happened after the Lehman Brothers investment bank fell in 2008.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 11.66 points to 12,708.82. That's a loss of 0.1 percent.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 2.53 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,784.17.

Stocks are still off to a strong start in 2012. Investors' biggest fears have slowly faded. Stronger than expected job growth in the U.S. and falling borrowing costs for European governments have helped send the S&P 500 index up 4.6 percent for the year.

Maybe the biggest boon to markets this year is the lack of scary headlines, said Jeff Lancaster, a principal at the investment firm Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough.

"When everybody is feeling distressed, anxious and worried as they were at the end of last year, it doesn't take a lot of good news for the mood to change," he said. "It just takes a diminishing quantity of bad news."

Many energy stocks jumped along with prices for natural gas and crude oil. Chesapeake Energy Corp., the No. 2 producer of natural gas in the United States, gained 6 percent after it said it plans to cut production, a response to the recent slump in natural gas prices.

Natural gas futures rose 7.9 percent to $2.60 per 1,000 cubic feet. Gas futures were trading above $4 just six months ago.

Stocks of other gas producers shot higher. Southwestern Energy Co. jumped 10 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. was close behind, rising 6.5 percent.

Apache Corp., a producer of oil and gas, rose 1.6 percent after saying said it plans to buy Cordillera Energy Partners in a $2.85 billion deal. It's the largest merger announced in the U.S. this year.

The price of oil rose 1.3 percent to $99.58 per barrel. The European Union tightened sanctions against Iran by banning the purchase of Iranian oil. Iran threatened to block shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world's oil exports.

Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, sank 8.5 percent after its new chief executive said no drastic changes are needed. The company's founders announced they were stepping down as co-CEOs late Sunday.

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