June 9, 2015 / 12:36 AM / 5 years ago

Wall Street closes flat as investors ponder interest rates, Greece

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended Tuesday virtually unchanged after a choppy trading day with investors hesitant to make bets while a sharp increase in oil prices failed to boost energy stocks.

Traders work at their screens in front of the German share price index DAX board at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

The benchmark S&P 500 index's .SPX best performer was the consumer staples sector .SPLRCS, which is seen as a defensive bet because consumers still buy basics even in a downturn.

Investors are making more defensive bets because of uncertainty about what will happen in Greece and the timing for U.S. interest rate hikes, on top of worries about a possible market correction after five years of gains, said Dennis Dick, proprietary trader at Bright Trading LLC in Las Vegas.

“When you start to see the defensives as your leaders it’s typically getting to the end of our cycle,” he said. “When I’m seeing the market get more defensive it makes me nervous.”

Crude oil prices jumped more than 3 percent as bulls ramped up bets across the oil complex for another weekly drop in U.S. stockpiles. [O/R]

Yet the S&P energy sector .SPNY ended down 0.05 percent after rising as much as 1 percent earlier in the session.

“I think people are perceiving (the price rise) as a more short-term phenomenon. There’s some stronger and larger forces at work, such as OPEC is not changing its posture with respect to production,” said Matthew Kaufler, portfolio manager at Federated Clover Investment Advisors in Rochester, New York.

The S&P 500’s financial sector .SPSY gained as investors bet it would benefit from a U.S. Federal Reserve rate hike this year, said Andrew Frankel, co-president of Stuart Frankel & Co in New York.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras asked his party to rally behind the government on Tuesday as time was running out to unlock funding from lenders and avert a debt default.

With the Brussels negotiations entering a decisive phase, European officials expressed frustration with Greek tactics and warned Athens of the risks it is running. {ID:nL5N0YV1XJ]

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 2.51 points, or 0.01 percent, to 17,764.04, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.87 points, or 0.04 percent, to 2,080.15 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 7.76 points, or 0.15 percent, to 5,013.87.

In its sixth straight day of losses, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 ended down 0.5 percent. The MSCI all world stock index .MIWD00000PUS fell 0.02 percent.

The dollar was down 0.16 percent against a basket of currencies .DXY after a 1 percent drop the day before.

“The U.S. is the cleanest shirt in a dirty laundry. That’s why the dollar has been strong and we can talk about raising interest rates,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago. “But unless the global economy turns around it’s going to be hard for the U.S. to remain that clean.”

U.S. Treasuries yields rose, with benchmark yields reaching seven-month highs on selling spurred by this week’s flood of debt supply, including $24 billion in three-year government notes.

Brent crude LCOc1 settled up $2.19 a barrel, or 3.5 percent, at $64.88, and U.S. crude CLc1 settled up $2 a barrel, or 3.44 percent, at $60.14.

Additional reporting by Anirban Nag, Atul Prakash, Alistair Smout in London, and by Wayne Cole in Sydney, Richard Leong in New York; Editing by Catherine Evans and Meredith Mazzilli

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