NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The major U.S. stock averages finished higher Friday as investors were cheered by positive commentary coming out of initial fiscal cliff discussions between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.
John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, was quoted as saying he believes the fiscal cliff -- which refers to a combination of tax rate increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 -- can be averted.
Escalating Middle East tensions remained a focus for the market, however, as Israel was reportedly preparing for a possible invasion of Gaza as Palestinian forces launched rocket fire at Jerusalem.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose nearly 46 points, or 0.37%, to close at 12,588. The blue-chip index snapped a four-day losing streak and ended the week down 1.77%. For the year, the Dow is still up 3.03%.Breadth was positive when the closing bell sounded with winners ahead of losers, 22 to 8. The biggest percentage gainers were Alcoa (AA), American Express (AXP), Home Depot (HD), and UnitedHealth (UNH). The leading Dow decliners were AT&T (T), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Verizon (VZ), and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT). HP shares lost nearly 2% following weak quarterly results and a poor outlook from fellow PC giant Dell (DELL). The S&P 500 tacked on nearly 7 points, or 0.48%, to settle at 1360, while the Nasdaq gained more than 16 points, or 0.57%, at 2853. The S&P 500 lost 1.45% for the week and is now up 8.13% year-to-date, and the Nasdaq slid 1.78% for the week and is now up 9.52% in 2012. The strongest sectors in the broad market were consumer cyclicals, health care and utilities. Transportation was the only group to finish in the red. Winners outran losers by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio on the New York Stock Exchange, and a 1.5-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq. Volume totaled 4.04 billion on the Big Board and 2.19 billion on the Nasdaq. "I doubt we'll see anything concrete for quite a while," said Stephen Guilfoyle, U.S. economist at Meridian Equity Partners, of the budget negotiations. "I am certain that both sides will come out and say something positive because that's their job. They're going to make their constituents think they're working for them, and they're trying to make the press and the markets believe that things are moving in the right direction, so you'll probably hear some positive headlines."