In a sign of tepid economic conditions, construction spending unexpectedly fell 0.3 per cent in November, while the pace of growth in the US manufacturing sector slipped to a six-month low in December, according to the Institute for Supply Management.
"The data we got out today basically dampened early enthusiasm," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York. "It's just a little bit of softness but I don't think it changes the outlook for a stronger economy."
Markets had opened higher in a broad rally, but indexes later lost ground. Volume was light in the wake of the New Year's holiday, which often exacerbates market volatility.
About 5.29 billion shares traded on US exchanges, well below the 6.87 billion average last month, according to BATS Global Markets.
Wall Street had ended the last day of 2014 on a down note, but notched solid gains for the year and fourth quarter.
A 12-day rally of nearly 6 per cent through Dec. 29 had sent the S&P 500 to a record high, but the index has lost steam of late to notch its third straight decline. As market participants adjust positions in the New Year, they will be questioning whether current levels are justified.
Energy shares gained 0.4 per cent, alternating between gains and losses alongside choppy trading in crude oil. Exxon Mobil rose 0.4 per cent to $92.83 and Kinder Morgan gained 1.2 per cent to $42.81 to lead the sector higher.
US crude settled down 58 cents at $52.69 for its 13th negative week out of the past 14, and is at levels not seen since 2009. Brent crude settled down 91 cents at $56.42 a barrel.
For the week, the Dow closed down 1.2 per cent, the S&P off 1.5 per cent and the Nasdaq off 1.7 per cent.
General Motors shed 0.2 per cent to $34.84 after the automaker announced three new vehicle recalls, the biggest involving the ignition-switch design of several SUV and pickup truck models.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 9.92 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 17,832.99, the S&P 500 lost 0.7 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 2,058.2 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.24 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4,726.81.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE 1,696 to 1,376, for a 1.23-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,555 issues fell and 1,185 advanced for a 1.31-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 9 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 60 new highs and 24 new lows.
Copyright @ Thomson Reuters 2015