U.S. Stocks Mostly Flat in Quiet Trading

By Riva Gold and Lucy CraymerFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Spanish stocks, euro down after Catalan election

Equities post biggest weekly outflows since Brexit

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Bitcoin sheds one-fourth of its market value in 24 hours

U.S. stocks bounced around the flatline Friday, as trading quieted heading into the holiday weekend.

The S&P 500 fell slightly in early morning trading, down less than 0.1%, following Thursday's modest rebound. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 10 points, or less than 0.1%, to 24772.

"It's holiday trade," said John Brady, managing director at futures brokerage R.J. O'Brien, adding that few traders were opening new bets. "People want to get through today, not create a lot of damage in their portfolios."

The pause in stock trading comes on the heels of a busy week in Washington. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate and the House passed an overhaul of the U.S. tax system. Late Thursday the U.S. Congress passed a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through mid-January, avoiding a shutdown.

During the week ended Wednesday, investors withdrew $14.5 billion from equity funds-the largest outflow since Britain's vote to leave the European Union, according to Bank of AmericaMerrill Lynch analysis of EPFR Global data. A possible reason for the outflows: Some investors believe the tax cut was already priced into U.S. stocks ahead of the vote, underscoring the muted reaction in markets.

In Europe, stocks slipped, weighed down by Spanish stocks. A victory for Catalonia's separatist parties in a regional election sapped some demand for Spanish assets on Friday.

Catalonia's separatist parties won a majority in a vote Thursday for a new regional assembly, keeping alive the threat of secession from Spain and opening a period of uncertainty over relations between Catalonia and Madrid.

Spain's benchmark IBEX 35 index was down 1.1% on Friday, with lenders Banco de Sabadell and CaixaBank each falling over 3%.

"Continued uncertainty will lead to a further deterioration of the business environment," said analysts at Moody's Investors Service.

Still, many analysts were skeptical the development would maintain pressure on the common currency or meaningfully weigh down European markets. While the results are considered a blow to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, few expect another unilateral independence declaration soon, and there are few signs Spain's growth has been dented in recent months.

"These events are very uncertain and difficult to predict and investors are focused on economic growth and earnings growth," said Jon Adams, investment strategist with BMO Global Asset Management. Among political concerns in Europe, "We're more worried about Italian elections and German coalition talks," he added.

Markets in Hong Kong and Japan closed with gains in thin trading.

Bitcoin slumped to $13,200 from $15,800 in barely three hours during Asian trading, and was last at $12,783, according to CoinDesk. Bitcoin has wiped out one-fourth of its market value in the past 24 hours and lost about $121 billion of its total market value in less than a week.

Many of the other big cryptocurrencies also fell significantly, with Bitcoin Cash prices slumping by one-quarter at one point over the past day.

South Korea's Kospi-one of Asia's worst performers Thursday-edged up 0.4% after four straight declines. Japan's Nikkei rose 0.2% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.7%, ending the week with gains.

-Jeannette Neumann and Corrie Driebusch contributed to this article.


Write to Riva Gold at riva.gold@wsj.com and Lucy Craymer at Lucy.Craymer@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 22, 2017 11:13 ET (16:13 GMT)