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While you were sleeping: Wall Street pauses

 Wall Street is little changed to start the week, with the Standard & Poor's 500 Index on track to close its best year since 1997.

The S&P 500 has gained 32 percent in 2013, bolstered by US Federal Reserve stimulus measures that have stoked the world's largest economy to a level where some of that monetary help can be removed. Policy makers earlier this month said they will cut back the central bank's bond purchases to US$75 billion a month from US$85 billion next month.

In afternoon trading in New York today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was steady at 16,478.12, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index slipped 0.10 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index edged 0.12 percent lower.

"The equity culture is not dead," Joseph Quinlan, the chief market strategist at Bank of America Corp.'s US Trust, told Bloomberg News. "We kind of lost sight of the fact that equities still provide long-term good returns."

Gains in shares of Walt Disney, last up 2.4 percent, and Cisco Systems, last up 1 percent, offset declines in shares of Exxon Mobil, last 1 percent weaker, and Chevron, last 0.9 percent lower.

Walt Disney shares received a boost from Guggenheim, which lifted its rating on the stock to "buy" from "neutral and bolstered its target price to US$87.

US pending home sales rose 0.2 percent in November, posting the first increase in six months, following a 1.2 percent decline in October that was larger than initially reported, according to the National Association of Realtors.

"Several housing indicators have improved recently and the very modest increase in pending home sales in November is a tentative sign that activity is stabilising, or perhaps even picking up," Daniel Silver, an economist at JP Morgan in New York, told Reuters.

Total existing-home sales are expected to reach 5.1 million in 2013, a gain of almost 10 percent over 2012, but should stay at that level in 2014, and then rise to 5.3 million in 2015, according to NAR.

"We may have reached a cyclical low because the positive fundamentals of job creation and household formation are likely to foster a fairly stable level of contract activity in 2014," Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said in a statement. "Although the final months of 2013 are finishing on a soft note, the year as a whole will end with the best sales total in seven years."

Meanwhile, Brent crude prices are set to weaken for a second year in 2014. Prices will average US$105 a barrel in 2014, down from US$108.71 in 2013, according to the median of estimates from the seven analysts who most accurately predicted this year's level in a Bloomberg News survey last December. Brent averaged US$111.68 in 2012.

Shares of Crocs soared, last 20.4 percent higher at US$16.05, after the maker of plastic clogs said Blackstone Group agreed to buy a 13 percent stake for US$200 million.

"The investment by Blackstone is a vote of confidence in our company and our brand, and Crocs will benefit from Blackstone's financial, consumer, retail and brand experience and relationships," according to John McCarvel, who will retire as Crocs CEO, president and board member.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index ended the session with a 0.2 percent decline from the previous close. France's CAC 40 edged nearly 0.1 percent lower, the UK's FTSE 100 fell 0.3 percent, while Germany's DAX dropped 0.4 percent.

(BusinessDesk)

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