NEW YORK U.S. stocks ended little changed after a lightly traded session on Monday as investors hedged bets before a policy debate aimed at heading off U.S. tax hikes and spending cuts early next year.
Firmer economic data from China and delays to an instalment of Greek aid also were trading day topics.
News that Chinese exports rose sharply in October, signalling the giant economy was strengthening, argued for buying riskier assets. The safe-haven U.S. Treasury market was closed on Monday in observance of Veterans Day.
But stock market gains were limited, made tentative by concerns about the euro zone and possible higher U.S. taxes and spending cuts that could kick in early next year.
On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index remains up 10 percent for 2012.
In Chicago, grain futures tumbled amid a wave of technical selling, with soybeans sinking to a 4-1/2-month low that nearly erased gains from this summer's devastating drought.
Prices had already been under pressure after the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday raised its estimate for U.S. soybean production more than expected and increased its forecast for global inventories. Most actively traded January soybeans fell 3.08 percent to $14.065 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.
The euro was flat against the dollar but near a two-month low, at $1.2707 as uncertainty about another tranche of financial aid for Greece to help pay off its debt kept investors cautious. The euro is down about 1.9 percent against the dollar so far in November.
Last week's stock market weakness was partly driven by concerns about whether there will be a timely solution to avoid a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect early next year. Economists fear tax increases and spending cuts could tip the economy back into recession if a deal is not reached.
"The markets don't like uncertainty and while the election is over, investors must still deal with the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling and the unpredictable situation in Europe," said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab, in Austin, Texas.
"But keep in mind, the markets are clearly oversold in the short-term and even a hint of resolution on any of these issues could spark a nice bounce," he said.
The Dow Jones industrial average ended down 0.23 point, or 0.00 percent, at 12,815.16. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 0.15 point, or 0.01 percent, at 1,380.00. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 0.62 point, or 0.02 percent, at 2,904.25.
Overseas, a weekend report showing China's export growth climbed to a five-month high added to recent data suggesting the country's seven straight quarters of slowing economic growth have ended.
Although Greece approved a tough austerity budget for 2013 on Sunday, its international lenders still need to agree on how to make its debts sustainable into the next decade.
The MSCI world equity index was down 0.14 percent at 322.79 by 2145 GMT.
In Europe the FTSEurofirst 300 Index slipped 0.26 percent at 1,094.35 after last week's 1.6 percent drop. London's FTSE 100 was down 0.04 percent and Frankfurt's DAX was up 0.07 percent while Paris' CAC-40 was down 0.35 percent.
The uncertainty over the Greek aid talks and the U.S. budget impasse supported German government bonds, with 10-year yields steady at 1.35 percent.
In the oil market, worries about the danger of the United States, the world's top oil consumer, tipping into recession as a result of the fiscal cliff and weak Japanese data weighed on prices.
Brent crude oil futures fell 37 cents to $109.01 by 2130 GMT, after gaining more than 2 percent on Friday. U.S. oil was down 40 cents at $85.67 after finishing up more than 1 percent last week to end a three-week slide.
Gold was at $1,727.09 an ounce, well above a 2-month low around $1,672 hit last week.
(Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago, Julie Haviv and Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)