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US stocks end little changed as investors remain cautious

The major US stock indexes have barely budged on another day of mostly light trading ahead of the Easter holiday weekend.

Technology stocks declined the most, while real estate companies notched the biggest gains. Oil prices recovered after an early slide. Bond yields fell and the price of gold rose as investors kept an eye on rising geopolitical tensions.

"Heading into the holiday weekend, people are a little bit nervous to add on to their positions," said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.38 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 2,353.78. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 6.72 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 20,651.30. The Nasdaq composite index slid 14.15 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 5,866.77.

Small-company stocks bucked the downward trend. The Russell 2000 index rose 9.86 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 1,376.95. Rising stocks outnumbered declining ones on the New York Stock Exchange.

Major indexes started off in the red early on Tuesday and held their course the rest of the day as traders monitored the latest headlines on North Korea and Russia-US relations.

North Korea said there could be "catastrophic consequences" after the US ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its battle group to waters off the Korean Peninsula. Nerves were already on edge with US-South Korea war games under way, following recent ballistic missile launches by the North that have rattled neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Moscow to meet with Russian officials about the Syria civil war.

Wall Street's so-called "fear index," known as the VIX, surged 7.3 per cent to its highest level since November.

Government bonds also reflected growing unease among investors. The yield on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note fell to 2.30 per cent from 2.36 per cent late on Monday. As bond prices rise, yields drop.

And gold, often sought out by investors in times of global uncertainty, rose 20.30 dollars, or 1.6 per cent, to 1,274.20 dollars an ounce.

"One of our predictions this year is we're going to have higher volatility," said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management. "It's to be expected with all the economic uncertainties, all the geopolitical uncertainties."

A dash of favourable economic news failed to lift the market. The Labour Department reported that job openings rose 2.1 per cent in February to a seasonally adjusted 5.7 million. Job openings have increased 3.2 per cent over the past 12 months.

Weak forecasts from some companies weighed on the market.

MTS Systems slumped 13.2 per cent after the maker of mechanical testing systems issued disappointing earnings and sales forecasts for the year. The stock shed 7.10 dollars to 46.70 dollars.

Hub Group sank 14.2 per cent after the transportation management company forecast weak first-quarter results, citing high truck capacity that's led to big price cuts. The stock lost 6.70 dollars to 40.55 dollars.

The fallout from a video showing a United Continental passenger dragged off an overbooked flight in Chicago on Sunday continued to pull down the airline's shares. The stock slid 81 cents, or 1.1, to 70.71 dollars.

Investors cheered the latest batch of corporate deal news.

Supervalu climbed 5.5 per cent after the supermarket chain agreed to buy grocery distributor Unified Grocers for 375 million dollars, most of which will go to pay Unified Grocers' debt. Shares in Supervalu added 21 cents to 4 dollars.

RetailMeNot vaulted 48.4 per cent after the online coupon company agreed to be acquired by payment and marketing company Harland Clark Holdings for 11.60 dollars a share, or 555 million dollars. RetailMeNot picked up 3.75 dollars to 11.50 dollars.

Rebounding from an early slide, benchmark crude oil rose 32 cents to close at 53.40 dollars a barrel in New York, its sixth gain in a row. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, added 25 cents to close at 56.23 dollars a barrel.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline was little changed at 1.76 dollars a gallon. Heating oil also held steady at 1.65 dollars a gallon. Natural gas slid 9 cents, or 2.7 per cent, to 3.15 dollars per 1,000 cubic feet.

Among metals, silver gained 34 cents, or 1.9 per cent, to 18.25 dollars an ounce. Copper was little changed at 2.61 dollars a pound.

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