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Stocks close mildly lower with utilities lagging

U.S. stocks closed lower Monday in low volume trade as investors awaited further indications on the timing of the Federal Reserve's next interest rate hike.

"This is all pretty much sideways. I think the market's just looking for the next cue for the Fed in data," said John Caruso, senior market strategist at RJO Futures.

Durable goods and the second revision to first-quarter GDP are all due later in the week, in addition to several speeches from Fed policymakers. Earlier Monday, the flash Markit manufacturing PMI came in at 50.5 in May, down from 50.8 in April.

The major averages gave up gains to close mildly lower, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing about 7 points lower after earlier rising nearly 50 points. That was the second-smallest spread from high to low of the year — the tightest range since mid-April. ( sees tightest range since April&via=CNBC"> Tweet This )

"I think the market's got the message about June," said Lee Ferridge, head of macro strategy, North America, State Street Global Markets.

"Since the April meeting there's been a consistent message," he said. "I think we need the data to justify (a June hike). The other thing is to hear Yellen justify it."

Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to speak Friday afternoon, and again on June 6. Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker, an alternate member, is scheduled to speak early Monday evening.

"I think the real focus is on the Fed. With the economic numbers continuing to improve I think the chances of a Fed rate hike continue to grow," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.

"The market is probably just going to stay within a tight trading range here," he said.

In a seventh day of alternating losses and gains, the S&P 500 underperformed with utilities closing nearly 1 percent lower to lead 8 declining sectors. Materials closed more than 1 percent higher, helped by gains of 4.4 percent in shares of CF Industries and Monsanto.

German drug maker Bayer bid $122 per share in cash for seeds and chemicals maker Monsanto. The deal is worth a total of $62 billion, including assumed debt, and a more than 20 percent premium over Monsanto's close Friday of $101.52 a share.

On the other hand, U.S. fertilizer maker CF Industries and Dutch rival OCI NV ended their merger agreement on Monday, following the U.S. Treasury's steps to curb tax avoiding inversion deals...