(Reuters) - U.S. stocks closed lower on Monday, as investors were wary of betting on riskier assets before seeing the outcome of Russia's aborted weekend mutiny.
The rebellion by Russian mercenaries raised questions about President Vladimir Putin's future. While Putin on Monday thanked mercenary fighters and commanders who had stood down to avoid bloodshed, the U.S. State Department said the situation in Russia remained dynamic.
Last week, U.S. stocks sputtered after a recent rally, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq snapping its eight-week winning streak after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signaled there could be more interest rate hikes ahead.
"It doesn't feel like the all clear has sounded yet," said Carol Schleif, chief investment officer at BMO family office in Minneapolis, referring to Russia. "Nobody knows what the ultimate power structure in Russia's going to look like."
"Traders are having a tough time today figuring out if they want to be offensive or defensive so they've got a foot in both camps. They don't know which way the market's going to swing," she said.
Adding to uncertainty was the start of the second quarter's final week on Monday, weeks ahead of the financial reporting season. This prompted profit-taking in growth stocks that had advanced sharply so far this year, Schleif said.
Investors also checked out underdogs for the year-to-date such as value stocks and small caps, said Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance, Charlotte, North Carolina.
"Out of favor themes for 2023 are working for today. Maybe in the absence of a real risk on or risk off day you go bargain hunting," Zaccarelli said.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12.72 points, or 0.04%, to 33,714.71; the S&P 500 lost 19.51 points, or 0.45%, at 4,328.82; and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 156.74 points, or 1.16%, to 13,335.78.
Leading the benchmark's industry index gainers was the energy sector, which rallied 2.2% as oil prices rose while investors balanced concerns about global demand growth against upcoming supply disruptions that could worsen with political instability in Russia.
A slew of economic data including a key inflation gauge, durable goods and University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index is expected this week, as well as a speech from Powell which could throw light on the Fed's rate hike plans.
Most policymakers see at least two more quarter-point rate increases by year-end, though traders are betting on just one hike in July, according to CMEGroup's Fedwatch tool.
Among single stocks, Pfizer Inc (NYSE:PFE) fell 3.7% after the drugmaker said it was discontinuing the development of an experimental obesity and diabetes drug due to elevated liver enzymes in patients in clinical studies.
Alphabet fell 3.3% after UBS downgraded the stock to "neutral," while Tesla sank 6% after Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) cut the electric car maker's rating to "neutral."
Lucid Group rose 1.5% after entering into an agreement with UK's Aston Martin that will give the electric vehicle maker a 3.7% stake in the company.
PacWest climbed 4% after private-equity firm Ares Management (NYSE:ARES) said it had acquired a $3.5 billion specialty finance loan portfolio from the lender.
But Carnival (NYSE:CCL) slumped 7.6% after the cruise operator forecast third-quarter earnings below Wall Street expectations.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by a 1.91-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.15-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 18 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 53 new highs and 154 new lows.
On U.S. exchanges 9.28 billion shares changed hands compared with the 11.62 billion average for the last 20 sessions.