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Stocks attempt gains; utilities up 1%

U.S. stocks traded in a narrow range Monday, after a solid week of gains, as investors continued to eye commodity prices and readied for earnings season. ( struggle for gains, oil eyed&via=CNBC"> Tweet This )

The major averages tried to hold mildly higher in midday trade, with the Dow Jones industrial average up 40 points. UnitedHealth contributed the most to gains.

Utilities rose more than 1 percent as the greatest advancer in the S&P 500.

Analysts noted lighter trade volume due to Columbus Day. The U.S. bond market was closed Monday for the holiday.

"I wouldn't put too much into this (trading session) because it's holiday mode trading," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "It's all about earnings tomorrow."

JPMorgan Chase is scheduled to report after the close Tuesday, beginning a heavy week of earnings reports from financials, which includes Bank of America and Wells Fargo on Wednesday, and Citigroup and Goldman Sachs on Thursday.

Earnings estimates for the financial sector are down to growth of 3.0 percent versus expectations of 6.1 percent growth two weeks ago, according to S&P Capital IQ.

"There's really not much going on today. It's really the calm before the earnings storm," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group. "I've got my eye on commodity prices."

"The market's extremely overbought. I expect a big pause here," he said.

On Friday, the S&P 500 closed up 3.26 percent for the week, its best week for 2015. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 3.7 percent for the week, its second-best week of the year so far.

Oil prices declined more than 2 percent as of 12:02 p.m., ET, with crude below $49 a barrel and brent near $51.50 a barrel. Crude rallied nearly 9 percent last week.

The energy sector fell more than 1.5 percent as the greatest decliner in the S&P 500. Chevron was the greatest weight on the Dow Jones industrial average.

"You've got a relatively catalyst-free (session) and I think we'll take our cues from the commodity market," said Art Hogan, chief...