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US stocks end see-saw day lower

Stocks in the US swung from gains to losses and almost back again today.

The US market opened the day higher, getting a boost from encouraging news on hiring and small business confidence.

The market then swooned in the afternoon as oil closed lower. The pendulum then swung back late in the day as oil gained in after-hours trading and stocks ended with small losses.

From peak to trough, the Dow Jones industrial average swung 425 points.

Stocks are having a jumpy start to the year as investors grapple with the potential impact of oil's plunge. The outlook for global growth also remains fuzzy as the US recovery continues, but economies in Europe and Asia struggle.

Even though stock market volatility has picked up at the start of the year, investors should remain calm, said Janet Dougherty, a global investment specialist in Chicago at JPMorgan private bank.

"You have to remember that we've been through an extended period where there wasn't a lot of volatility in the equity markets, and now we're just getting back to normalised levels," Ms Dougherty said.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index eased 5.23 points, or 0.3%, to 2,023.03. The Dow fell 27.16 points, or 0.15%, to 17,613.68. The Nasdaq composite slipped 3.21 points, or less than 0.1%, to 4,661.50.

Oil fell after the energy minister for the United Arab Emirates said there are no plans for Opec to curb production to shore up falling crude prices. The price of oil has slumped almost 60% since last June as traders bet that the supply glut will persist.

"At a certain point oil has got to find a bottom," said Jeffrey Carbone, a partner at Cornerstone, a wealth manager. "But for that to happen, somebody is going to have to flinch and cut production."

The market also took a knock after the CEO of KB Homes said that his company was experiencing soft demand in some markets. The comments caused the stock to plunge, dragging other home builders lower.

KB Home ended the day down 2.70 dollars, or 16.3%, at 13.87 dollars. The Standard & Poor's home building index dropped 3%.

The market's initial rise came after a survey suggested that the rapid pace of hiring in 2014 would continue this year. A separate survey showed that small businesses remain confident for the outlook on growth.

US employers advertised the most job openings in nearly 14 years in November, the Labour Department said. That suggests businesses are determined to keep adding staff because they are confident that strong economic growth will create more demand for goods and services.

Job openings rose 2.9% to 4.97 million in November, the most since January 2001. More job vacancies generally lead to more hiring.

A survey on small business showed confidence rising to an eight-year high in December. The survey also showed that more small business owners plan to raise wages.

Among individual stocks, McGraw Hill Financial, the owner of the Standard & Poor's bond rating company, was the biggest gainer, rising 5.13 dollars, or 6%, to 90.89 dollars. The gains followed reports that the company was close to reaching a 1 billion dollar settlement with the US government for allegedly misleading investors about its ratings of bonds backed by subprime mortgages.

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.90% from 1.91% yesterday.

The dollar gained against the euro but dropped against the yen. The euro fell 0.5% to 1.1775 dollars and the dollar slipped 0.2% to 117.89 Japanese yen.

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