“I think the big news of the week is Santa Claus has come to Wall Street early and brought us to break-even levels for the year,” said Adam Sarhan, CEO of Sarhan Capital.
“The question is whether that rally, led by some recovery in beaten-down areas of the market, will continue.”
Energy held about 1 percent lower in morning trade, struggling to hold Wednesday’s week-to-date gains of more than 5 percent. The sector is still more than 20 percent lower for the year so far as the worst performer in the S&P 500.
The S&P struggled to hold gains for 2015 after closing in the green for the year Wednesday.
Oil remained near multi-year lows, but extended recent gains. WTI was briefly above $38 a barrel, remaining at a premium to Brent, which traded near $37.66 a barrel as of 9:49 a.m. Natural gas inventories are due later in the morning.
“I think a lot of people were short coming into this week. (They’re) positioning before the end of the year,” Sarhan said. “Investors are looking for the next bullish catalyst out there.”
The stock market closes at 1 p.m., ET, for Christmas Eve and remains closed Friday for Christmas Day. Oil settles early at 1:30 p.m., and the bond market closes at 2 p.m.
The Nasdaq composite attempted to hold higher as semiconductor stocks and biotech stocks gained.
“I think today’s really about retail. It’s really the last day for (investors) to focus on the Christmas season,” said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. He noted unseasonably warm weather in most of the United States may encourage more shopping on Dec. 26, a day he said has recently become more important for retail.
The SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) was off nearly 1 percent in mid-morning trade.
In economic news, weekly jobless claims came in at 267,000.
The U.S. dollar index was about 0.4 percent lower against major world currencies, with the euro near $1.095 and the yen at 120.33 yen against the greenback as of 10:12 a.m., ET.
The major averages closed higher Wednesday, on track for weekly gains of more than 2.5 percent.
As of Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500 was barely higher for the year so far, while the Nasdaq composite was up about 6.5 percent year-to-date. The Dow Jones industrial average was more than 1 percent lower for 2015.
In corporate news, Nike‘s 2-for-1 stock split took effect Thursday.
The S&P 500 traded down 5 points, or 0.24 percent, at 2,059, with energy leading nine sectors lower and health care the only advancer.
The Nasdaq composite traded down 1 point, or 0.02 percent, at 5,044.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 15.5.
About five stocks declined for every four advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 85 million and a composite volume of 321 million in mid-morning trade.
Crude oil futures for February delivery rose 33 cents to $37.83 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold futures for February delivery added $6.20 to $1,074.50 an ounce as of 10:11 a.m., ET.
On tap this week:
Stock market closes at 1 p.m.
10:30 a.m.: Natural gas inventories
Christmas Day holiday