Stocks mixed on uncertainty in Europe

U.S. stocks hovered between small gains and losses in afternoon trading Monday as investors waded through a mixed bag of corporate and geopolitical news. Traders were encouraged by the latest batch of corporate mergers. Energy stocks rose the most.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial fell 11 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,660 as of 2:30 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose two points to 2,053. The Nasdaq composite added seven points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,765.

GREEK ELECTION: Sunday's election victory by Greece's Syriza party, which has vowed to end painful austerity policies, has raised concerns about whether Greece will break free from the continent's monetary block. The country's current bailout plan concludes at the end of February.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany's DAX rose 1.4 percent, while the CAC-40 in France rose 0.7 percent. The main stock market in Greece recouped some of its early losses to trade 3.2 percent lower.

THE QUOTE: "European markets reflected worse expectations for the outcome of this election and, as a result, they're seeing this as better-than-expected news," said Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones. "Whereas U.S. markets are reacting to what uncertainty can come as a result of it."

BAD CREDIT: Standard & Poor's rating agency downgraded Russia's credit grade to junk status. The agency sees the country's financial buffers at risk amid a slide in the country's currency and weakening revenue from oil exports. The downgrade contributed to a slide in the ruble, which weakened about 6 percent against the dollar.

NO SNOW DAY: A major snowstorm is sweeping into the Northeast, but the markets will stay open for business. The NYSE Group says it plans normal trading hours for its exchanges through Tuesday.

Doug Cote, chief market strategist at Voya Investment Management, says he doesn't see the snowstorm having a major impact on the market.

"It could be disruptive, potentially, for a few people, maybe a few traders," Cote said. "But as far as the market impact goes, it's minimal, unless there are severe power outages."

SECTOR VIEW: Half of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 moved lower, and telecommunications stocks dropped the most. Energy stocks led the gainers. Oil prices were fluctuating in afternoon trading after rallying earlier in the day.

BAD MEMORY: Computer hard drive makers Seagate Technology and Western Digital were among the biggest decliners in the S&P 500 after Seagate reported weakness out of Europe. Seagate sank $4.97, or 7.8 percent, to $59.02, while Western Digital shed $5.36, or 5.1 percent, to $100.70.

TOYLAND TURNOVER: Mattel shares slid 4.7 percent on news that CEO Bryan Stockton resigned after about three years of leading the struggling toymaker. Mattel also reported preliminary fourth-quarter results that fell short of Wall Street expectations. The stock fell $1.33 to $26.71.

PACKAGED MERGER: Packaging company MeadWestvaco has agreed to merge with Rock-Tenn Co. to create a $16 billion company, which will be named before the deal closes. MeadWestvaco jumped 13 percent, to lead all stocks in the S&P 500. The stock gained $6 to $51.04. Rock-Tenn vaulted $3.37, or 5.4 percent, to $66.38.

BUYING BREAKFAST: Post Holdings jumped 17 percent on news that the company has agreed to acquire privately held MOM Brands in a deal that involves $1.05 billion in cash and nearly 2.5 million shares of stock. MOM's products include cereals, hot wheat and oatmeal products. Post shares gained $7.03 to $48.50.

SHARING RISK: Reinsurers Axis Capital Holdings and PartnerRe are combining in an $11 billion deal. Investors cheered the news, lifting Axis shares $3.60, or 7.3 percent, to $52.93. PartnerRe gained $2.38, or 2.1 percent, to $116.52.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 27 cents to $45.31 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil has plunged since June, when it traded above $100. The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah late last week is unlikely to change Saudi's oil production levels, a key factor in the global prices, analysts have said. But his death has created a small amount of additional uncertainty.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.82 percent.

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