U.S. stocks struggle for direction

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U.S. stocks struggled for direction in quiet trading Monday, with many traders still on summer vacation and investors waiting for signals from the Federal Reserve about help for the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell to a small loss, the Standard & Poor’s 500 darted between small ups and downs, and the Nasdaq composite index nosed higher.

Investors waited for clues from the Federal Reserve on whether it will take additional steps to help the U.S. economy. Chairman Ben Bernanke delivers a closely watched speech in Jackson Hole, Wyo., on Friday.

With many European lawmakers on summer break, the debt crisis there has trudged alone. The U.S. economy is sluggish, but not dramatically improving or worsening. China has shown signs of a slowdown, but not a recession.

In Europe, reminders of the underlying strain were clear, even without any major developments.

 

Over the weekend, Germany’s economy minister and finance minister both said they wouldn’t give Greece a break on deadlines for adopting spending cuts that Germany has asked for.

On Monday, Germany’s central bank head said that he opposed a bond-buying plan that could lower borrowing costs for countries like Spain and Italy but that would require Germany foot most of the bill.

French President Francois Hollande, usually a little more lenient with Greece, said Saturday that Greek leaders should be willing “to go all out” to meet the spending cuts and other obligations they agreed to for bailouts.

Bigger events lie ahead. German courts will decide next month whether Germany is constitutionally allowed to keep participating in bailouts. And an important debt report on Greece isn’t due until late September at the earliest.

In early trading Monday, the Dow was down 30 points, about 0.2 percent, to 13,128. The S&P 500 was down less than a point to 1,410.38. The Nasdaq composite was up a point to 3,071.

Many investors are still on vacation until after Labor Day, and the ones who aren’t have had to scrounge for developments to read the market.

 

Of 18 trading days this month, the Dow has moved more than 1 percent only once. On five days it has been virtually flat, moving less than one-tenth of a percentage point.

Shares of Hertz and Dollar Thrifty both rose after Hertz announced it would buy its rival. Hertz shares jumped 13 percent, or $1.64, to $14.79. Dollar Thrift jumped 7 percent, or $5.95, to $86.95.

Luxury jeweler Tiffany rose 6 percent, climbing $3.56 to $62.06, after reporting higher profits and revenue. Though the company did trim predictions for the rest of the year, and sales fell in the Americas and Europe, revenue in Japan jumped.

Apple was up after a California court on Friday ruled that South Korea-based Samsung had copied some of the features and designs of Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Apple stock rose 2 percent, or $14.15, to $677.37.