* S&P 500 still tallies gains for 3rd straight month
* April consumer spending up; May consumer confidence slips
* Energy sector lags as oil turns lower
* Celator jumps over 70 pct after agreeing to be acquired
* Dow down 0.48 pct, S&P down 0.1 pct, Nasdaq up 0.29 pct (Updates with close of U.S. market)
By Lewis Krauskopf
May 31 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 wrapped up its third straight month of gains on a flat note on Tuesday as weaker energy shares countered a rise in safe-haven utilities.
The Nasdaq closed higher on Tuesday, and ended up 3.6 percent for the month, the best performance of the three major indexes. The Dow eked out gains for May to notch its fourth straight positive month.
Data on Tuesday showed U.S. consumer spending recorded its biggest increase in more than six years in April as households stepped up purchases of automobiles, while another report showed an ebb in consumer confidence in May.
Consumer staples ended down 0.49 percent, while consumer discretionary shares fell 0.11 percent.
Energy shares were the worst performing sector, dropping 0.57 percent, as oil prices settled lower. Utilities rose 0.56 percent, leading all sectors.
“There’s nothing out there today bringing money off the sidelines,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 86.09 points, or 0.48 percent, to 17,787.13, the S&P 500 lost 2.11 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,096.95 and the Nasdaq Composite added 14.55 points, or 0.29 percent, to 4,948.06.
Investors will be parsing through economic data, including Friday’s employment report, to gauge whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as its June 14-15 meeting. The central bank caught investors off guard earlier this month when it signaled its next rate hike could be just weeks away.
“The market is getting used to the idea of potentially higher rates and the Fed hiking this summer,” said Aaron Jett, vice president of global equity research at Bel Air Investment Advisors in Los Angeles. “It’s been an amazing change in sentiment compared to the middle of February where people were ready to jump out of the window.”
After a rough start to the year amid jitters about the global economy and volatility in the oil market, the S&P 500 notched its third straight month of gains, its first such streak in two years. The benchmark index is up more than 2 percent in 2016.
On Tuesday, Dow component Disney fell 1.1 percent. The studio’s latest release, “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” received poor reviews.
Celator Pharma surged 71.6 percent to $30.08 after agreeing to be bought by Jazz Pharma for about $1.5 billion. The Nasdaq Biotechnology index rose 1.3 percent.
Great Plains Energy Inc will buy bigger rival Westar Energy Inc for $8.6 billion, the largest deal in the U.S. electricity distribution market so far this year. Westar jumped 6.4 percent, while Great Plains fell 5.9 percent.
About 8.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, well above the roughly 7 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,648 to 1,395, for a 1.18-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,591 issues rose and 1,250 fell for a 1.27-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 81 new highs and 21 new lows. (Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D‘Souza and Nick Zieminski)