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Wall Street flat in light preholiday trade






Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks were little changed on Thursday despite a preholiday flurry of data that reinforced views of a solid economic growth as Wall Street sought to notch a fourth straight week of gains.

New home sales and prices edged up in November, while consumer sentiment rose in December to its highest level since June.

Other reports were mostly in line with expectations, with jobless claims suggesting unemployment will stay stubbornly high. But consumer spending rose for a fifth month, while durable goods orders posted their largest increase since March.

"Most economic data in the last couple of months has really turned positive," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 12.45 points, or 0.11 percent, to 11,571.94. The Standard & Poor's 500 <.SPX> dipped 1.06 points, or 0.08 percent, to 1,257.78. The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> shed 3.39 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,668.09.

Volume was expected to be low as Wall Street takes a break Friday for the Christmas holiday.

The S&P 500 rose Wednesday to its highest level since the collapse of Lehman Brothers more than two years ago, led by bank stocks.

"We are continuing to make new highs as volume tails off, and the question is will it lead to some potential weakness into early next year," Detrick said.

"Some optimism is creeping in, but bigger picture we think there could be a correction of 5 to 7 percent," toward the second half of January, he said.

The S&P 500 rose 7.6 percent in the last two months of 2009, only to peak mid-January, then fall 2 percent that month.

Retail stocks got a boost as Bed Bath & Beyond Inc <BBBY.O> rose 6 percent to $50.51 after it beat quarterly profit estimates and forecast a strong holiday season.

Fabric and crafts retailer Jo-Ann Stores Inc <JAS.N> jumped 32.2 percent to $60.33 after a deal to be bought by private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners for about $1.6 billion, or $61 per share.

Micron Technology Inc <MU.O> shares slipped 2.7 percent to $8.06 a day after the top U.S. memory chip maker forecast lower pricing for NAND chips, which are used in smartphones and tablet computers.

Motorola Inc <MOT.N> spinoff Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc will replace Meredith Corp <MDP.N> in the S&P 500 index after the close on January 3, according to Standard & Poor's. Meredith shares dipped 1.3 percent to $35.35.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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