The U.S. stock market mounted a last-minute comeback to close slightly higher Monday, snapping a three-day losing streak.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average
each eked out a tiny gain, while the Nasdaq composite ended slightly lower.
Consumer staples were among the biggest gainers. Oil and gas companies were hit by another plunge in the price of crude oil, which tumbled 5.3 percent to a 12-year low. Chevron lost 1.7 percent, and Exxon Mobil fell 1 percent.
The latest downturn in oil comes at a time when investors are increasingly uneasy about the trajectory of China's economy and the possible implications for U.S. company earnings. China's Shanghai composite fell 5.3 percent Monday.
"Investors have one eye on China and all that's going on there and the other eye on oil," said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank. "Those two things are keeping investors on pins and needles right now."
The Dow added 52.12 points, or 0.32 percent, to close at 16,398.57. The S&P 500 rose 1.64 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,923.67. The Nasdaq fell 5.64 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,637.99.
All of the major stock indexes are down sharply for the year.
The three indexes hinted at a rebound early Monday but spent much of the day in the red as investors weighed the implications of another stock market drop in China and the slide in crude.
A weakening of China's currency and steep drops in its stock market have stoked worries over the outlook for the world's second-largest economy. That doesn't bode well for the next round of company earnings, which kicks into gear this week.
Many companies' quarterly results likely will reflect the impact of China's softening economy and lower oil prices, said Jason Pride, director of investment strategy at Glenmede.
"The No. 1 most-mentioned item in third-quarter reports was weakness in China," Pride said. "We'd be surprised if China and oil are not central to the earnings narrative as well."
On Monday, Benchmark U.S. crude dropped $1.75, or 5.3 percent, to $31.41 a barrel in New York. The last time it was lower was Dec. 5, 2003, when it closed at $30.73 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell $2, or 6 percent, to $31.55 a barrel in London.
In Asia, Chinese stocks sank again after a rebound Friday that analysts suggested was due to buying from a group of state entities dubbed the "National Team." The Shanghai Composite Index fell 5.3 percent, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng sank 2.8 percent. Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 lost 1.2 percent, while Seoul's Kospi fell 1.2 percent. Tokyo's markets were closed for a holiday.