A sharp jump in productivity, the biggest quarterly increase in two years, lifted stock prices Tuesday, but early gains sputtered, leaving the market up only slightly at the close.
The Labor Department said the nation's productivity rose 4.7 percent in the third quarter. That helped push labor costs lower, easing fears of inflation on Wall Street.
The market followed a pattern it has repeated many times since its October low: Gains early in the day were eroded by sharp selling before the close.
Despite the day's increase, some analysts questioned whether the markets were in a position to rise substantially in the final weeks of the year.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 21.85, or 0.2 percent, to 10,856.86 after being up 101 points in earlier trading. The Dow lost 42.50 on Monday.
Broader stock indicators also advanced. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index rose 1.61, or 0.13 percent, to 1263.70, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.12, or 0.14 percent, to 2260.76.
Bonds came back after losses in the previous session, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.48 percent from 4.57 percent late Monday.
The dollar was up against most major currencies, while gold prices rose to a 25-year high in European trading.
Oil prices rose. A barrel of light crude settled at $59.94, up 3 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Wal-Mart Stores rose 48 cents, to $47.62.
General Motors rose 26 cents, to $22.39.
Walt Disney Co. rose 51 cents, to $25.52.
Sears Holdings rose $6.26, to $122.97, even though it reported sharply lower profit. Earnings nonetheless exceeded analysts' predictions.
Johnson & Johnson fell 58 cents, to $60.47. The company said it remains committed to buying Guidant the day after Guidant received a higher bid from Boston Scientific.
Apple Computer rose $2.23, to $74.05. It announced a deal with NBC Universal to sell episodes of a dozen TV shows on Apple's iTunes.
New York Stock Exchange composite index rose 16.61, to 7775.85.
American Stock Exchange index rose 9.39, to 1747.73.
Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 1.01, to 687.58.
NYSE: 2.17 billion shares, down from 2.36 billion on Monday. Advancers outnumbered decliners 6 to 5.
Nasdaq: 1.82 billion shares, up from 1.69 billion. Advancers outnumbered decliners 7 to 6.
Crude oil for January delivery: $59.94, up 3 cents.
Gold for current delivery: $510.20 a troy ounce, up from $508.90 on Monday.