NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Stocks were narrowly mixed early Friday afternoon, though the Dow Jones Industrial Average was still on track to clinch a six-day winning streak, its longest since December.
Trading was choppy on Friday with little economic news and no earnings to give markets direction. The S&P 500 was down 0.11%, the Dow added 0.07%, and the Nasdaq rose 0.18%.
Crude oil pared gains after topping $50 a barrel for the first time in more than two months on Friday. Prices remained higher on hopes of a delayed rate hike from the Federal Reserve and ahead of weekly rig count data Friday afternoon. West Texas Intermediate crude was on track to close more than 10% higher for the week, its biggest five-day gain since 2009. WTI crude was up 0.4% to $49.61 a barrel in morning trading.
Stocks rallied on Thursday as sentiment continued to strengthen that the Federal Reserve is unlikely to raise interest rates before March. Increased downside risks in September encouraged members to delay a rate hike last month, according to the Fed's meeting minutes. Members said it would be "prudent" to wait until risks eased before tightening monetary policy for the first time in a decade.
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"Market reaction, like during the meeting, is overwhelmingly interpreting the minutes as dovish, as an extension of the dovishness," Bill Ehling, fixed income market strategist at Federated Investors, told TheStreet. However, he noted, "the market behavior over the next couple of months is really going to be contingent on the data stream and what we see in the context of the Chinese slowdown."
Alcoa (AA - Get Report) unofficially kicked off the third-quarter earnings season on Thursday afternoon. Shares fell 2.8% after profit and sales missed estimates in its second quarter. Net income of 7 cents a share was half what analysts had expected, while revenue tumbled nearly 11% to $5.57 billion. The company has suffered from a sharp drop in the price of commodities.
Alcoa also said that it expects global aluminum demand to increase 6.5% this year, though warned that Chinese demand was slowing faster than projected. The metals company reduced automotive demand in the country to 1% to 2% growth, down from 5% to 8%.
Wholesale inventories in the U.S. climbed 0.1% in August, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Analysts had expected the measure to remain unchanged after a 0.1% decline in July.
The prices for goods imported to the U.S. fell 0.1% in September, according to the Commerce Department. Excluding fuel, import prices dropped 0.3%. Import prices were revised in August to decline 1.6% compared to a previously reported 1.8% drop. Over the past year, import prices have declined 10.7%, the largest year-to-year decrease since October 2009. Lower fuel costs and a stronger U.S. dollar have put downward pressure on the cost of imports.
Commodities markets rallied after Glencore (GLCNF) announced it would cut annual zinc production by a third, around 500,000 tonnes, on Friday. Glencore produces around 4% of global supply of zinc. Zinc prices jumped 12%, while gold prices rose 1.1% to $1,157 an ounce and copper climbed 2.8% to $240.95 a pound.
Ruby Tuesday (RT - Get Report) tumbled more than 14% after reporting a mixed first quarter. The restaurant chain reported a surprise net loss of 3 cents a share, compared to estimates of 5 cents a share in profit. Revenue fell 0.6% to $279.48 million, due to a lower store count, though bested forecasts by $500,000.
Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report) named Brent Briggs, chief financial officer of the retailer's international arm, as the new CFO of the business as a whole. The world's largest retailer also named Steve Bratspies as its chief merchandising officer at U.S. locations and John Furner as executive vice president of merchandising at Wal-Mart's membership discount chain Sam's Club.
Gap (GPS - Get Report) shares slumped 6% after the retailer reported a 1% decline in same-store sales in September. Sales at chain Banana Republic declined 10% compared to a 2% increase a year earlier. International sales improved over the year, coming in flat compared to a 3% decline in September last year. Net sales over the month fell 1% to $1.46 billion.
Volkswagen (VLKAY) shares were on watch on reports even more carmakers have implemented software that gamed diesel missions tests. Mercedes-Benz, Honda (HMC) , Mazda and Mitsubishi vehicles were found to have performed differently on-road than in test conditions, according to The Guardian. Volkswagen's CEO of U.S. operations Michael Horn testified to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the scandal that has plagued the automaker since late September on Thursday. Horn said it was "hard to believe" top executives weren't aware of the defeat device.
Anheuser-Busch (BUD) added 1% after it argued SABMiller's (SBMRY) rejection of its takeover offer "lacks credibility" and that it would take far longer for the beer company to reach the offer price of 42 pounds a share on its own. SABMiller did not accept the offer, noting that it "substantially undervalues" the company.