Market Snapshot: U.S. stocks end November with whimper, post modest monthly gains

U.S. stocks closed slightly lower on Monday, but the main indexes held on to small monthly gains as investors weighed the kickoff of the holiday shopping season along with weaker-than-expected economic data ahead of a busy week of economic releases and central-bank watching.

The S&P 500 SPX, -0.46% closed 9.64 points, or 0.4% lower at 2,080.47 and eked out a less than 0.1% gain over the month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.44% slipped 78.63 points, or 0.4%, to 17,719.86 and gained 0.3% over the month. The Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.37%  ended the day down 18.86 points, or 0.4%, at 5,108.67 and posted a 1.1% gain over the past month.

An uptick in oil prices CLF6, -0.07%  gave energy shares a boost on the day, with the energy sector leading the S&P 500 Monday, closing up 0.4%.

Meanwhile, financials were the best performer on the S&P 500 for the month, posting a 1.7% rise, as investors anticipated that an interest-rate hike could boost banks’ net-interest income. And the utilities sector was the S&P 500’s worst performer of the month, posting a 2.8% decline.

The notion that the Federal Reserve is confident enough in the U.S. economy to potentially raise rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade helped keep the U.S. stock market afloat in November, said Jerry Braakman, chief investment officer of First American Trust.

This week could be volatile for markets, with a policy meeting at the European Central Bank on Thursday and speeches by Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen on the docket. Friday brings the last batch of U.S. jobs numbers before the Fed’s December policy meeting. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries also meets on Friday.

Meanwhile, traders were also watching the retail sector closely, amid concerns about slower-than-expected Black Friday sales in stores. Some were worried that if early returns on Cyber Monday sales were also weak, that could dampen what appetite is out there for retail stocks. A National Retail Federation survey on Sunday found that more people shopped online than in stores during the holiday weekend.

The retail outlook for the holiday season is relatively modest, with analysts looking at a 3% increase, said Randy Frederick, managing director of Schwab Center for Financial Research

“But it’s very early in the process, as Black Friday is only one piece of the puzzle,” Frederick said, adding that investors should look for data at least a couple of weeks into December for a more informed view of the sector.

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Economic data

U.S. economic data on Monday largely disappointed, with the Chicago PMI, or business barometer, falling back into contractionary territory in November. This was the last major regional release before the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing gauge, set for release on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, pending home sales edge up 0.2% in October, following two months of declines.

Later this week, a steady trickle of data builds to the November nonfarm payrolls report on Friday.

See: November jobs report likely to give Fed go-ahead to raise interest rates.

Stocks to watch:

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -1.26%  was among the retailers in the spotlight as investors assessed the holiday weekend of sales. Amazon’s shares fell 1.3% Monday, while Under Armour shares UA, -3.86%  lost 3.9%.

Shares of Microsoft Corp. MSFT, +0.78%  inched 0.8 higher, after rising earlier as high as 1.7%, after the company got upgraded to strong buy from market perform at Raymond James, and Fitbit FIT, +3.16%  shares rose 3.1% amid reports that shoppers will be snapping up its wearable fitness trackers this holiday season.

Computer Sciences Corp. shares CSC, +8.37%  rose 8.6%, after the company began trading as two separate companies Monday after the spinoff of its public-sector company as CSRA Inc. CSRA’s CSRA, +7.87% shares rose 7.9%.

Other markets: Oil futures CLF6, -0.07%  pared earlier gains and closed with a monthly loss of around 10%, ahead of the OPEC meeting on Friday. Pressure is building on Saudi Arabia to cut oil output, but many say the kingdom is unlikely to change its approach.

Gold prices GCZ5, +0.78%  edged higher Monday but suffered a monthly drop of 6.7%, the biggest monthly loss in over two years. The dollar DXY, +0.11% meanwhile, posted its best month since January, boosted by rising rate-hike expectations.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index SXXP, +0.46%  rose 2.7% for November, a second-straight month of gains. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, +0.26%  managed a 1.9% gain for November, but much of the month’s gains were wiped out by an investigation into China’s biggest brokerage houses. The index is up just 16% from its Aug. 26 bottom.

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