The turbulence likely lies ahead. The Fed's annual meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyo., is at the end of the month. German courts are set to decide next month whether the country can keep participating in bailouts for weaker European countries.
And the presidential election in November, which will help determine whether taxes go up and government spending is cut next year, could throw the markets into turmoil for weeks beforehand.
"People look forward to a lot of questions being answered in the months ahead," said Tony Fratto, a former aide to President George W. Bush and managing partner at Hamilton Place Strategies in Washington. "But they don't have answers today."
This is still likely to be the first down week for the Dow and the S&P 500 after six weeks of gains. The economic reports that have trickled out this week have been mixed at best.Although housing showed signs of recovery, claims for unemployment insurance rose again. Chinese manufacturing fell to a nine-month low. Europe, though quiet, still showed signs of tension. Britain reported that its economy shrank in the second quarter, the latest confirmation that the country is still in recession. The Greek prime minister met with his German and French counterparts on Friday to discuss Greece's bailout. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said Greece needs "time to breathe" while it implements spending cuts that Germany is demanding. Durable goods orders, reported by the Commerce Department, rose in July but fell after excluding gains from the transportation category. That sector is traditionally volatile and can be heavily influenced by changes at just a few companies. Durable goods are an important measure of economic health because it shows whether businesses are willing to spend to expand or improve. Software maker Autodesk skidded more than 15 percent, falling $5.58 to $30.13 after weaker-than-expected second-quarter results. The company is restructuring to shift to cloud and mobile computing, but it also blamed an "uneven" global economy.