By Edward Krudy
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks eased on Monday as a mixed start to the holiday shopping season, caution over Greek aid talks and budget discussions in Washington gave investors reason to pause after Wall Street posted its best week in over five months.
While holiday shopping appeared to be off to a good start, analysts cautioned against reading too much into one weekend's numbers. Retailers need to sustain the initial burst through the November-December holiday season, which can account for a third of annual sales and 40 to 50 percent of profits for the year.
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"The underwhelming performance of retailers in general is hurting the market," said Michael James, a senior trader at Wedbush Morgan in Los Angeles. "Retail is certainly seeing a mixed bag."
Investors continued to chew over two of the greatest overhangs for markets. Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund will seek to unfreeze the second bailout package for Greece on Monday. At the same time, U.S. lawmakers have made little progress in the past 10 days toward a compromise to avoid the harsh tax increases and government spending cuts schedule to start in January.
"Friday was a big day in the stock market," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York. "So it's not surprising at all to see some profit-taking on that."
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 88.58 points, or 0.68 percent, to 12,921.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 8.40 points, or 0.60 percent, to 1,400.75. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 5.84 points, or 0.20 percent, to 2,961.01.
Total spending for the Black Friday long weekend rose 12.8 percent from last year, to $59.1 billion, from last year, according to the National Retail Federation. That pace was down from the prior year's 16.4 percent increase.
Black Friday's online sales topped $1 billion for the first time ever as more consumers used the Internet do their early holiday shopping, comScore Inc
Major indexes ended last week with gains of 3 to 4 percent, recovering some of their losses following an 8 percent correction since September. The Dow and S&P 500 both closed above key technical levels for the first time since November 6, which could provide additional support. The Dow ended above 13,000, while the S&P broke above 1,400.
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(Additional reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Kenneth Barry and Leslie Adler)