NEW YORK - Stocks closed slightly lower in extremely light trading Thursday as investors remained on the sidelines ahead of Christmas. The price of crude oil continued to recover.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 50.44 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,552.17. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.30 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,060.99, and the Nasdaq composite rose 2.56 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 5,048.49.
Christmas Eve is almost always the quietest trading day of the year, and this year was no exception. Roughly 1.4 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, a third of what's typical and the lowest volume since Christmas Eve 2013.
U.S. and European markets will remain closed Friday in observance of Christmas.
While stocks were slightly lower Thursday, U.S. markets had a solid week. The S&P 500 rose nearly 3 percent and is back into positive territory for the year, albeit barely. It is not uncommon for stocks to rally into the end of the year, as investors close their books and reposition themselves for the next year.
"The Santa Claus rally got an early start," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist with Prudential Financial, referring to the gains that historically happen between Christmas and New Year's Day. "If we can hold on to this, we will be setting up for a good January."
Oil prices continued to recover from lows earlier in the week. U.S. crude futures gained 60 cents to close at $38.10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, rose 53 cents to close at $37.89 a barrel in London.
Energy stocks didn't benefit from oil's climb. The energy component of the S&P 500 index fell 0.9 percent, the most of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 index.
In other company news, bond insurer MBIA rose 51 cents, or 8 percent, to $6.75 after Puerto Rico's struggling electric power company reached a deal with its creditors. MBIA insured the bonds issued by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
The dollar edged lower to 120.28 yen from 120.88 yen a day earlier. The euro rose slightly to $1.0964 from $1.0912.
Bond prices rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 2.24 percent from 2.25 percent a day earlier.
In other energy markets, heating oil fell 1.8 cents to close at $1.101 a gallon, wholesale gasoline rose 2.3 cents to $1.264 a gallon and natural gas rose 4.6 cents to $2.029 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In the metals markets, gold rose $7.60 to $1,075.90 an ounce, silver rose 9 cents to $14.38 an ounce and copper was unchanged at $2.12 a pound.