NEW: Stocks drift mostly lower, even as Nasdaq sets another high

A listless day on Wall Street left stocks mostly lower Tuesday, even as more gains by technology companies pushed the Nasdaq to an all-time high.

The S&P 500 spent much of the day wavering between small gains and losses before finishing with a 0.2% loss, its third straight decline. About 65% of the companies in the index fell. Losses in communication services, financial and other companies accounted for much of the selling.

Those losses were kept in check by solid gains in small company stocks, which did better than the rest of the market. Tech companies also rose, adding to the sector’s blockbuster 41% gain so far this year.

The mixed showing for stocks came as Congress finally approved a $900 billion rescue to carry the economy through what’s likely to be a bleak winter. A couple of discouraging reports on the economy may have also weighed on the market. Trading was relatively thin ahead of Christmas later in the week.

The S&P 500 fell 7.66 points to 3,687.26. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 200.94 points, or 0.7%, to 30,015.51. The Nasdaq composite rose 65.40 points, or 0.5%, to 12,807.92, a record high. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies also set a record high, gaining 19.55 points, or 1%, to 1,989.88.

After months of bickering, Congress approved a deal Monday night to send $600 cash payments to most Americans, give $300 per week to laid-off workers and deliver other aid to businesses struggling under the weight of the pandemic. The bill is going to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

The hope for investors is that such support can prop up the economy for the next several months, before a more widespread rollout of coronavirus vaccines can allow it to stand on its own. That expectation has been driving markets for a while, but a new worry is casting some doubt on it.

A new strain of the coronavirus has emerged, one that has caught hold in at least London and southern England. There’s no evidence that it’s more deadly, but it seems to spread more easily. Worries are high enough about it that countries around the world have restricted flights from London, raising concerns that more economy-punishing lockdowns may be on the way.

Helping to keep the worries in check was the CEO of BioNTech, the German company that developed a coronavirus vaccine with Pfizer. Ugur Sahin said it “is highly likely” that his company’s vaccine can protect against the new variant, though further studies are needed to be sure. His company’s vaccine is one of two already approved for use in the United States.

Even without the new coronavirus strain, the resurgent pandemic has already been dragging on the U.S. economy, which had roared to a record annualized pace of 33.4% growth during the summer. Two weaker reports on important areas of the economy added to the growing pile of discouraging data Tuesday.

One showed that confidence among U.S. consumers dropped this month, and the reading was well below what economists had forecast. That’s discouraging for an economy driven largely by consumers spending. Another showed that even the red-hot housing market is slowing slightly. The reading on sales of previously occupied homes roughly matched economists’ expectations.