NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are wavering Monday but resisting big losses as the market comes off its largest weekly decline since the summer. The price of natural gas slumped as temperatures in the U.S. remained unusually warm. Traders were looking ahead to the Federal Reserve's policy meeting this week, at which the Fed is expected to raise interest rates for the first time in nine years.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 13 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,278 as of 12:41 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost two points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,010. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 15 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,918 as Apple fell 1.9 percent, which weighed down tech stocks.
Stocks have alternated between small gains and losses. Earlier the S&P 500 index fell below 2,000 for the first time in two months Monday.
BAD WEEK: Last week was the worst week for the S&P 500 index since mid-August, as the index fell declined times in five days and dropped almost 4 percent. Oil prices and energy stocks slumped, and investors were concerned that was another sign that the global economy is weak.
GAS LEAK: Natural gas prices plunged 5 percent to the lowest level since September 2001 as traders anticipated weak demand for heating because of unseasonably warm temperatures in the U.S. Natural gas companies fell sharply. Range Resources sank 95 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $21.80 and Southwestern Energy slumped 42 cents, or 7.1 percent, to $5.48.
THE QUOTE: Stephen Schork, an independent analyst and trader, said industrial demand for natural gas in the U.S. and from Canada has tumbled. That means the biggest remaining source of demand is for consumers who use gas to heat their homes. But it's been a very warm winter so far.
"This weather's going to persist through the rest of this month," Schork said. However he said prices will recover if it gets colder in January.
OIL WOBBLES: Earlier the price of U.S. crude fell below $35 a barrel for the first time since Feb. 18, 2009. But it bounced back to rise 79 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $36.41 a barrel in midday trading. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, rose 18 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $38.50 a barrel in London.
U.S. oil has fallen for six consecutive days to reach its lowest prices in almost seven years.
DEAL DIFFICULTIES: Activist investor Daniel Loeb is challenging the combination of chemicals makers DuPont and Dow Chemical, announced on Friday. Loeb, who owns a stake in Dow Chemical, questioned the timing of the deal and wants Dow CEO Andrew Liveris removed. Dow's board says it stands by the proposal.
On Friday Dow and DuPont agreed to combine into a $130 billion company and then split up into three smaller businesses. Loeb has pushed Dow to split its specialty chemical and petrochemical businesses. Another activist investor, Nelson Peltz, has been pushing DuPont to break itself up.
TEAMING UP: Consumer products maker Jarden Brands agreed to be acquired by competitor Newell Rubbermaid. The cash and stock deal would create a conglomerate that owns brands like Paper Mate, Sharpie, Elmer's, Rubbermaid and Calphalon.
The deal values Jarden at $60 per share and its stock inched up 20 cents to $52.88. Newell Rubbermaid shares fell $4.84, or 10.7 percent, to $40.45.
MATTEL RISES: Toy maker Mattel rose after an upgrade from BMO Capital Markets. BMO said Mattel shares have reached a low point and could be at the start of a strong run. The firm also praised Mattel's management and increased its price target. Mattel shares added 91 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $27.16.
FEDERAL RESERVE: The Federal Reserve will start its last meeting of the year on Tuesday, and on Wednesday it's expected to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade. The Fed's key short-term interest rate has been close to zero since Dec. 16, 2008. The boost in rates would be a sign of confidence in the U.S. economy and would allow banks to make more money on loans.
BONDS, CURRENCIES: Bond prices fell, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.22 percent from 2.13 percent. The dollar dipped to 120.56 yen from 120.77 yen Friday. The euro inched up to $1.1030 from $1.0993.
Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay.