NEW YORK — Stocks swung between small gains and losses Monday while traders kept an eye on talks in Europe to cut Greece’s crushing debt load and prevent what could be a worldwide financial crisis.
European stocks and the euro rose after the continent’s finance ministers put pressure on banks that hold Greek government bonds to accept a 50 percent lower face value and lower interest rates.
The Greek stock market gained 5 percent, and markets in Germany, France, Spain and Britain all advanced less than 1 percent. The euro rose more than a penny to $1.302, close to its highest level against the dollar this year.
Negotiators are trying to prevent a disorderly default by Greece in March. The direst scenarios include a credit crisis similar to what happened after the Lehman Brothers investment house fell in 2008.
In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 44 points in the first hour of trading, drifted lower to a loss of 54 points, then floated higher. It was down 17 points at 12,703 just after 2 p.m. EST.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was down less than a point at 1,314. The Nasdaq composite index was down three points at 2,783.
Stocks are off to a strong start in 2012. Investors’ biggest fears have slowly faded. Stronger than expected job growth in the U.S. and falling borrowing costs for European governments have helped the S&P 500 index post gains on 11 of 13 trading days.
For the year, the Dow is up about 4 percent, the S&P about 4.5 percent.
Maybe the biggest boon to markets this year is the lack of scary headlines, said Jeff Lancaster, a principal at the investment firm Bingham, Osborn & Scarborough.
“When everybody is feeling distressed, anxious and worried as they were at the end of last year, it doesn’t take a lot of good news for the mood to change,” he said. “It just takes a diminishing quantity of bad news.”
Energy companies made big moves. Chesapeake Energy Corp., the No. 2 producer of natural gas in the United States, jumped 6 percent after it said it plans to cut production, a response to the recent slump in natural gas prices.
Natural gas futures rose 7.4 percent to $2.57 per 1,000 cubic feet. Gas futures were trading above $4 just six months ago.
Stocks of other gas producers shot higher. Southwestern Energy Co. jumped 8.7 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. was right behind, rising 7.4 percent.
Apache Corp., a producer of oil and gas, added 1 percent after it said it plans to buy Cordillera Energy Partners in a $2.85 billion deal. It’s the largest merger announced in the U.S. this year.
The price of oil rose 67 cents to $99 per barrel. The European Union tightened sanctions against Iran by banning the purchase of Iranian oil. Iran threatened to block shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of world’s oil exports.
Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, sank 6.5 percent after its new chief executive said no drastic changes are needed. The company’s founders announced they were stepping down as co-CEOs late Sunday.