A strong Friday rally could not overcome early-in-the-week losses, leaving the stock market down for the third week in a row.
Even after gaining almost 109 points today to 8,053.81, the Dow Jones industrial average ended the week with a loss of 78 points or almost 1 percent.
The day was pretty much the same for the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index, which climbed 11 points to 855.70, but still ended the week off 6.4 points or less than 1 percent.
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index did not share in Friday's gains, slipping about a point and a half to close at 1,320.91, down 22 points or about 1.6 percent for the week.
The Dow ended the month with a 3.6 percent loss, the S&P was down 2.7 percent and the Nasdaq lost about 1 percent.
All three indexes dodged a round of late day profit-taking that pulled the Dow from 150-plus point gains to only a 60-point advance, only to be reversed by an end-of-the session rally.
Today, investors balanced out two conflicting reports on the critical consumer sector of the economy.
The Commerce Department's tally of December consumer spending showed a 0.9 percent increase over the previous year, which was two-tenths of a point better than expected and the biggest gain in five months.
But the University of Michigan's consumer confidence survey, which gives a more up-to-date assessment of consumer attitudes, showed a sharp downturn since December. The index fell to 82.4 from 86.7, indicating the people surveyed are becoming more anxious about economic conditions.
The third data tidbit served up today was positive. The monthly survey of corporate purchasing managers in the Chicago region showed business is improving for manufacturers in the Midwest. That regional survey usually signals what will be reported on Monday, when a nationwide survey of purchasing people will be published.
Wall Street wise men today offered little insight into why the market was in a better mood today than it was yesterday when all the indexes fell about 2 percent.
None of the day's economic data explained it, said Jim Cramer, a veteran trader, founder of TheStreet.com and cohost of CNBC's Kudlow & Cramer. The answer, he argued, is that the market simply was "oversold," which means heavy selling the past couple of weeks has driven stock prices lower than justified by fundamentals.
The fundamentals aren't all that bad, other market media pointed out. More than 60 percent of the S&P 500 companies that have reported fourth quarter earnings have come in with better numbers than expected, Bloomberg reported.
Bank of America Strategist Lynn Reason, the queen of analogy creators, said the market now is very much like Sunday's National Football League Pro-Bowl game. "Only the oldest analysts and investors are willing to brave a field replete with uncertainty," she said.