U.S. stocks meandered sideways Monday as fears about Europe overshadowed recent excitement about central banks' efforts to boost the market.
Stocks opened lower, recovered by mid-afternoon to nearly flat and closed down modestly.
An index of business confidence in Germany, the biggest economy in Europe, fell for a fifth straight month. Many economists had expected it to at least remain flat. Some think Germany is headed for a recession.
The threat of the years-old European debt crisis has seemed less immediate in recent weeks as central banks unveiled measures aimed at encouraging investment and boosting the global economy. The German report reignited those fears.
Stocks had risen strongly in recent weeks as traders anticipated, then received, help from the Federal Reserve in the form of an open-ended bond-buying program.
"It's not unusual after big moves for the market to, in essence, go quiet and wait for the next catalyst," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist with Prudential Financial.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 20.55 points, or 0.2 percent, at 13,558.92. The Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 3.26, or 0.2 percent, to 1,459.89.
The Nasdaq composite index dropped 19.18 points, or 0.6 percent, to 3,160.78.
Apple fell after sales of the new iPhone 5 missed analysts' targets. The company sold 5 million units in three days. Its stock fell $9.