LOWER CLOSE: Stocks closed lower Thursday after mixed economic reports doused traders' early optimism. The government said that home sales fell in December, capping the worst year for home sales on record and highlighting housing's continued drag on the economy.
MORNING LEAP: During a brief morning rally, the Dow Jones industrial average rose above its highest closing prices since the financial crisis. It closed 76 points shy of that benchmark.
GOOD SIGNS: The early momentum was powered by news that orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods rose in December for the second straight month. Strong earnings from big manufacturers 3M and Caterpillar also helped.