December 29, 2014 / 12:49 AM / 3 years ago

Stocks edge up despite Greek angst; oil down sharply

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York December 22, 2014.Carlo Allegri

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shares edged higher in major markets on Monday despite a flight to safety triggered by a sell-off in Greek bonds, while crude oil prices tumbled after a short-lived bounce.

The U.S. benchmark S&P 500 closed at a record high and the euro touched the lowest in nearly 29 months against the U.S. dollar.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras failed to get enough support for his presidential nominee and will call a national election for Jan. 25. Stocks in Athens plunged as much as 11.3 percent before closing down 3.9 percent, while yields on 10-year Greek bonds touched their highest since September 2013.

Greece's Syriza party, which could come out ahead in the election, wants to wipe out a big part of the country's debt and cancel the terms of a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund that Athens needs in order to pay its bills.

"Greece is always worth paying attention to, but it’s a hiccup," said Mark Martiak, senior wealth strategist at Premier Wealth/First Allied Securities in New York. "I don’t see it as anything that makes a difference in the overall market."

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 was boosted by gains in consumer stocks, among others. The consumer discretionary sector rose 0.7 percent.

"The nearer-term picture is, consumers are enjoying lower gas prices; it’s almost as if it is an alleviation of taxes," said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital LLC in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

At the market close, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 15.48 points, or 0.09 percent, to 18,038.23, the S&P 500 gained 1.8 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,090.57 and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.05 point, or 0 percent, to 4,806.91.

An MSCI gauge of major equity markets edged up 0.2 percent. European stocks edged up 0.2 percent.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras arrives in the parliament for the last round of a presidential vote in Athens December 29, 2014.Yannis Behrakis

Oil prices continued to fall after a brief tick up earlier on concern about Libyan output. Brent crude futures fell 2.4 percent to $58 per barrel after hitting a high of $60.43. U.S. crude lost 1.9 percent to $53.72 a barrel.

“Every time the (oil) market tries to pick itself up, it’s just another wave of selling,” said Gene McGillian, senior analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. He said the market's concerns about oversupply are not going away.

Hurt in part by the sharp decline in crude prices in the past six months, Russia's economy shrank sharply in November. The rouble resumed its slide on Monday, down as much as 9.7 percent versus the U.S. currency. It was recently down 9.4 percent at 59.01 per dollar.

New 10-euro banknotes are pictured during their presentation at the Austrian national bank in Vienna January 13, 2014.Heinz-Peter Bader

Copper fell to its lowest level in four and a half years on concerns about a strong dollar and a slowdown in top consumer China. It was recently down 0.2 percent for the session.

U.S. Treasuries prices rose on safety buying after the Greek parliament vote, though trading was light as many investors are away the week between the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 12/32, its yield at 2.2092 percent.

"That is one of the main reasons we are trading a bit better here ... there is more of a 'risk off' feel, given the headlines out of Greece," said Sean Murphy, a Treasuries trader at Societe Generale in New York.

The euro slipped 0.2 percent against the greenback at $1.2152 after earlier hitting $1.2141, the lowest going back to August 2, 2012.

"The dollar bull rally isn't over yet," said Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management in New York.

The dollar strengthened against the yen at 120.70 but lacked momentum to challenge a 7-1/2 year high of 121.84 hit earlier this month.

Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica, Chuck Mikolajczak, Karen Brettell, Sam Forgione and Samantha Sunne; Editing by Dan Grebler

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