Stocks were little changed on Wednesday as investors found scant reason to continue buying following the best two-day rally for the S&P in a month.
The Nasdaq notched slight gains, helped by technology shares following strong results at Oracle Corp .
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The S&P added 2.3 percent over the past two sessions, the first time it has notched two straight days of 1 percent gains since late July. The advance came as the latest offers in ongoing U.S. budget negotiations supported hopes for a deal.
President Barack Obama's most recent offer to Republicans in the ongoing fiscal talks made concessions on taxes and social programs spending, amid concerns from Senate Democrats. House Speaker John Boehner said he remained hopeful about an agreement, though the offer was "not there yet."
"We're starting to see signs that there will be a deal on the 'fiscal cliff,' but after two strong days and with a fair amount of uncertainty left, people are just taking money off the table," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Tech shares were the top gainers of the day after Oracle reported earnings that beat expectations on strong software sales growth. Shares of Oracle rose 3.7 percent to $34.08, making it the biggest percentage gainer on the S&P 500.
FedEx Corp reported second-quarter revenue that beat expectations, but said earnings had been impacted by Superstorm Sandy. Shares rose 2.3 percent to $94.44.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 2.60 points, or 0.02 percent, to 13,353.56. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dropped 0.52 points, or 0.04 percent, to 1,446.27. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 3.08 points, or 0.10 percent, to 3,057.61.
Equities have had difficulty maintaining strong gains amid concerns over the "fiscal cliff," a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts many fear could push the economy into recession if they take effect next year.
Markets have been buoyed in recent weeks by any indication that an agreement between policy makers over the budget may be reached, with banks and energy shares - groups that outperform during periods of economic expansion - leading gains.
Still, trading has been light ahead of the holidays, and with investors' focus on the budget talks.
Knight Capital Group Inc climbed 6.3 percent to $3.54 after it agreed to be bought by Getco Holdings in a deal valued at $1.4 billion. The stock, which nearly collapsed after a trading error in August, remains down about 76 percent so far this year.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)