Stocks Flat at the Finish Line

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The major U.S. stock averages finished flat Monday with investors mostly sticking to the sidelines after last week's big pullback following the election results.

The sideways trading came as upbeat trade data from China and a modest dose of M&A action was set against uncertainty about Greece's next round of bailout funds and budget talks coming up between Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped less than a point, or 0.23%, to close at 12,815.16. The blue-chip index shed 2.12% last week, its worst weekly performance in more than five months, but it's still up 4.89% so far in 2012.

Breadth within the Dow was slightly negative as losers outpaced winners 16-to-13. Shares of Alcoa (AA) closed flat. The biggest percentage decliners were Microsoft (MSFT) , Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) , and UnitedHealth (UNH) .

Shares of Microsoft closed down 2.1% after CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying the company's Surface tablet was having a "modest" debut .

Blue chips moving higher included AT&T (T) , Disney (DIS) , and United Technologies (UTX) .

The S&P 500 rose 0.15 points, or 0.01%, to settle at 1380, while the Nasdaq lost 0.61 points, or 0.02%, to finish at 2904.26.

The strongest sectors in the broad market were capital goods, financials, and transportation, while utilities and technology were under the most selling pressure.

Apple (AAPL) shares slipped 0.77% as DigiTimes reported that the tech giant will start trial production of a new version of the iPhone 5 next month.

In other Apple news, the iPhone maker and Taiwanese gadget manufacturer HTC have settled their patent dispute.

Decliners outpaced advancers by a 1.1-to-1 ratio on both the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. Volume was at 2.53 billion on the Big Board and 1.38 billion on the Nasdaq.

Over the weekend, China reported its export growth soared to its highest in five months in October, surpassing estimates at over 11%, and calming fears that the world's second-largest economy was stalling.

The data helped offset a dour report from Japan, which said that the country's economy shrank 0.9% in the third quarter, the first contraction in in three quarters, weighed down mostly by weaker external demand.

Even as the major averages were pulling back on the heels of last week's volatile week of trading, Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital said Monday that he thinks "if the S&P 500 holds around the present levels, the worst of the decline is behind us."

"Indeed, the market is looking to stabilize notwithstanding the weekend rhetoric concerning the fiscal cliff, China's exports reaching a five-month high is another indication of the Chinese economy stabilizing, a positive for the global economy. Today's domestic M&A news also helping the market in the absence of macro news," said Cardillo.

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