NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks were little changed, erasing earlier losses, as gains in utilities and energy companies offset a slide in small-caps amid data showing manufacturing expanded less than forecast.
Range Resources and EQT surged more than 2.4 percent as energy shares advanced after fluctuating earlier in the day. Weight Watchers International plunged 13 percent as the Russell 2000 index lost 0.5 percent.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell less than 0.1 percent to 2,058.20 Friday. The gauge rose as much as 0.7 percent and dropped more than 0.6 percent during the session. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 9.92 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 17,832.99. More than 5.3 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 23 percent below the three-month average.
"Investors are looking for validation that the economy is, in fact, as strong as advertised," Peter Sorrentino, a Cincinnati-based fund manager at Huntington Asset Advisors, which oversees $1.8 billion, said in a phone
interview. "The market may struggle to find its footing here in the first couple of days until we get some more data points out."
The benchmark index fell on the last two days of 2014, giving it a monthly decline of 0.4 percent for the first December drop since 2007. That trimmed its third straight annual gain to 11 percent.
Stocks fell earlier Friday after a report showed manufacturing in the U.S. cooled in December, settling into a more sustainable pace of growth as the year drew to a close.
The Institute for Supply Management's factory index dropped to a six-month low of 55.5 from 58.7 in November, a report from the Tempe, Arizona-based group showed. The reading in October matched a three-year high.
"The data failed to meet early expectations but is still trending in the right direction," Eric Wiegand, a senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in New York, which oversees $120 billion, said by phone. "We expect more volatility but as you look around the globe we're still in expansionary territory and that's not the case with our major trading partners."
Separate data showed construction spending fell in November for the first time since June.
In the euro area, manufacturing expanded less than initially estimated. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said he can't exclude the risk of deflation in the euro area, in a sign that the likelihood of large-scale quantitative easing is increasing.
A Chinese manufacturing gauge slipped to the lowest level in 18 months, adding pressure on policy makers to do more to support economic growth, according to data released Thursday by the statistics bureau and the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing in Beijing.
Shares rallied last year as accelerating growth fueled optimism in the U.S. economy and an accommodative Federal Reserve policy sent risk-seeking investors into equities.
The S&P 500, Dow and Russell 2000 index climbed to records last month, while the Nasdaq composite index reached its highest level since March 2000. The S&P 500 closed at an all-time high on Dec. 29 for the 53rd time of the year, and the Dow reached 18,000 last week.
Big year for bull market
In the biggest bull market since the 1990s, the S&P 500 overcame five separate declines of 4 percent or more in 2014. The gauge never fell more than three straight days, a first in data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 2000. It has jumped more than 200 percent from its low in March 2009, including its biggest annual rally since 1997 in 2013.
The Chicago Board Options Exchange volatility index, a measure of demand for options on the S&P 500, fell 7.3 percent to 17.79 Friday, after reaching a two-week high Wednesday.
Six of 10 major groups in the S&P 500 advanced, with utilities, phone and energy companies rising the most. Industrial, consumer and technology companies retreated.
Energy companies fluctuated with the price of crude before climbing at the end of the day. West Texas Intermediate fell 1.1 percent after rallying almost 3.5 percent earlier. Range Resources added 3.7 percent, the most in the S&P 500, and EQT surged 2.4 percent.
Bed Bath & Beyond rose 0.7 percent after Canaccord Genuity upgraded the shares to buy from hold. The company "turned in a strong showing" over the holiday season, based on store visits and surveys, Canaccord Genuity analyst Laura Champine wrote in a note.
International Business Machines added 1 percent. The company was the worst performer in the Dow for a second straight year in 2014, with a slump of 14 percent.
Weight Watchers plunged 13 percent, the most since February, after more than 4,000 bearish options changed hands Wednesday and the stock was among the most heavily shorted last month. The company, founded in 1963, has struggled to compete with new weight-loss apps and services, contributing to seven straight quarters of declining sales.
Weight-loss and vitamin retailers slumped, with Vitamin Shoppe, Nutrisystem and GNC dropping at least 1.2 percent.
Technology companies dropped 0.2 percent, after tumbling 1.2 percent on Wednesday. Apple slid 1 percent, extending its loss for the week to 4.1 percent.
An S&P index of homebuilders lost 1 percent. Disappointing November construction spending suggests some economists may revise down fourth-quarter gross domestic product estimates, Christophe Barraud, Market Securities chief economist, said in a note to Bloomberg First Word.
-- With assistance from Jonathan Morgan in Frankfurt and Oliver Renick in New York.