The Dow Jones industrial average was up eight points at 13,314 at noon Eastern time Monday. The Standard & Poor's 500 slipped half a point to 1,437 and the Nasdaq composite fell 11 points to 3,126.
The stumble marks a pause in a rally last week that took the Dow and the S&P 500 to their highest levels in more than four years.
Stock markets rose around the world last week after the European Central Bank announced a long-anticipated plan to support struggling countries in the European Union. Investors are also more hopeful that the Fed will act this week to support the U.S. economy.
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke indicated in a speech last month that the central bank is inclined to provide new stimulus to the U.S. economy if it's needed. Since the speech, the government reported weak growth in jobs last month, heightening the case of more stimulus. There have also been new signs that manufacturing and construction are slowing down.
"The economy is not going through a nosedive, so I'm not sure we need another stimulus," said John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Advantage Funds. "But Bernanke would rather make a mistake going in early with stimulus than not, especially since the markets will not tolerate inaction."
There were several pieces of discouraging news out of China, giving investors more reason to worry that one of the most important engines of the global economy is sputtering. Auto sales growth slowed to 3.7 percent in August, and imports shrank unexpectedly. Factory output also slid to three-year low last month. The Chinese president warned growth could slow further.
The monetary policymaking body of the Federal Reserve meets on Wednesday and Thursday after a surprisingly weak report on U.S. jobs last Friday. Many anticipate a third round of bond purchases or other support for the financial system.
Later on Monday, the Fed releases its consumer credit report. Economists expect the Fed to report that Americans increased their borrowing in July.
Among stocks making big moves:
- Alpha Natural Resources rose 28 cents to $7.17 and Cliffs Natural Resources rose $1.12 to $41.03, some of the biggest gains in the S&P 500. Metals and mining company stocks shot up on hopes of more buyouts in the sector after the British commodities trading firm Glencore increased its buyout offer for Xstrata, an Anglo-Swiss mining company.
- American International Group fell after the U.S. government said Sunday it was selling shares in the insurer that would decrease its holdings below a majority stake for the first time since the bailout of AIG in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. AIG's stock lost 44 cents to $33.55.
- Shares of Geron Corp. plunged 56 percent after the company announced two setbacks for its experimental cancer drug. Geron has ended one study of the treatment and does not expect the drug to succeed in a second. Its stock fell $1.63 to $1.27.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)