U.S. Stocks Ease Off Highs as Mixed Economic Data Weigh

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock markets were range-bound, trading near the flat line Monday on very slow volume as investors continued to process the heavy set of economic reports from the past week and awaited speeches from Federal Reserve officials on their outlook for the central bank's stimulus program.

The S&P 500 fell 0.15% to settle at 1,707.14. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.3% to finish at 15,612.13.

"The markets are ... muddling along and digesting the data," Michael Serio, the Denver, Colo.- based regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank said in a phone interview. The private bank has $170 billion in assets under management. "It's going to take a couple of days to digest the data" and the main focus continues to be "employment, employment, employment."

Both the Dow and S&P hit record closing highs Friday despite a weaker-than-expected July employment report and speculation the Fed may not begin cutting back on its stimulus program following the bank's September meeting.

Serio said the Fed's tapering of its bond-buying stimulus measures is more likely to begin towards the end of the year rather than in September or October. "Until they hit that magical 7% unemployment rate, I don't think the Fed's in any rush to slow their bond-buying program," he said.

The Nasdaq ticked up 0.09% to 3,692.95.

Apple shares lent some support to the markets Monday, gaining 1.49% to $469.45. The company received a bit of a reprieve over the weekend from an unlikely source: President Barack Obama. President Obama's trade representatives on Saturday vetoed an International Trade Commission ban on the iPhone 4 and iPad 2. The move hurt Samsung, costing the South Korean giant $1 billion in market cap in South Korean trading.

Tyson Foods shares extended support as well. Shares tacked on 4.14% to $29.69 after the meat processor posted quarterly earnings of 69 cents a share on revenue $8.731 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of 60 cents a share on revenue of $8.65 billion amid record chicken segment results.

Cliff Natural Resources also posted gains, advancing more than 2% to close at $21 after the international mining and natural resources company announced after the close of trading on Friday a tentative agreement with the United Steelworkers Union for a new three-year labor contract offer that will cover about 300 workers at the Cliffs' Bloom Lake mine in Fermont, Quebec.

In other corporate headlines, HSBC fell 4.49% to $55.37 even after the company announced healthy earnings growth with continued improvement in credit quality and success in its efficiency program.

The world's second-largest bank also said that its net interest income declined to $17.819 billion during the first half from $19.376 billion during the first half of 2012, reflecting the difficult interest rate environment and asset sales.