Updated from 4:16 p.m. EST
Stocks in the U.S. faced pressure for much of the session Friday as traders dealt with disappointing news from
and weak housing data, but ultimately the major averages ended little changed.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
managed to eke out a gain of 2.56 points, or 0.02%, to 12,767.57, its third consecutive record closing high. The
was off 1.27 points, or 0.09%, at 1455.54, and the
gave up 0.79 point, or 0.03%, to 2496.31.
The New York market will be closed Monday for the Presidents Day holiday.
"We managed to break even for the day, which isn't too bad headed into the long weekend," said Paul Nolte, director of investments with Hinsdale Associates. "Investors aren't letting this market go down. The market looks heavy, but whatever correction we're getting looks short and shallow. Sentiment is still pretty strong."
However, Ken Tower, chief market strategist with CyberTrader, argued that "a general lack of upside progress across the board
should raise a few short-term red flags."
All told, the Dow finished a strong week with a gain of 187 points, or 1.5%. The Nasdaq added 36 points, or 1.5%, and the S&P 500 rose 17 points, or 1.2%.
Roughly 2.41 billion shares changed hands on the
New York Stock Exchange
. Decliners were even with advancers. Volume on the Nasdaq reached nearly 1.93 billion shares, with winners outpacing losers by an 8-to-7 margin.
Wall Street was hemmed in by the day's economic data. The most surprising report came from the Census Bureau, which said that housing starts plummeted 14.3% last month to 1.408 million annualized units, far below estimates. January's figure is the lowest since August 1997.
"The starts numbers are hugely volatile, even when weather conditions are normal for the time of year, but that has not been the case in the past couple of months," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist with High Frequency Economics. He said the report is essentially "supportive of our medium-term bearish growth view."
The good news was the Labor Department's producer price index for January. The headline index was down 0.6%, in line with expectations. The core index, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 0.2%, also matching forecasts. The core rate advanced 1.8% year over year, within the
comfort range of 1% to 2%.
The data come on the heels of benign testimony in Washington this week from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He said Wednesday that inflation pressures appear to have abated somewhat," before adding that the "monthly data are noisy, however, and it will consequently be some time before we can be confident that underlying inflation is moderating as anticipated."
His remarks were taken to mean that rate hikes are off the table, and equities benefited. The Dow went out Thursday at 12,765.01, an all-time high. During the past three sessions, the Dow has advanced 212 points and the Nasdaq has climbed 47.
Also on the economic docket, the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index fell to a preliminary reading of 93.3 in February from 96.9 last month, coming in below the consensus 96.5.
Treasury prices continued rising. The 10-year note was up 6/32 in price, yielding 4.69%, and the 30-year bond added 9/32, yielding 4.79%. The dollar was mixed against the world's other currencies.
On the corporate side, software giant and Dow component Microsoft slid 2.4% after CEO Steve Ballmer offered measured comments on the company's new Vista operating system. Early sales of Vista were slower than those of the previous OS, Windows XP, meaning its impact on revenue might be pushed out a bit farther in to the future than some analysts want to see. Microsoft lost 72 cents to $28.74.
Meanwhile, M&A speculation also flooded the wires.
is reportedly in talks with
to purchase the entire Chrysler Group, according to
Dow component GM slipped 0.3% to $36.34, while DaimlerChrysler gained 4.4% to finish at $73.33.
Another rumored potential merger was making headlines in the airline sector, where a published report said
, the parent of American Airlines, could be a buyout candidate. AMR added 92 cents, or 2.4%, to close at $38.97.
The world's biggest airline is being studied by a group that includes
, according to an article in
magazine. An offer, if it were made, could reportedly be between $9.8 billion and $11.1 billion.
Goldman Sachs tacked on 0.1% to $216.92, and British Airways ended fractionally higher at $112.65. Many industry analysts are skeptical that such a union will actually come to pass.
Commodities were higher across the board. Crude oil reversed early losses and finished up $1.40 a barrel to $59.39, and natural gas rose 21 cents at $7.50 per million British thermal units. Gold tacked on $1.40 to $672.80 an ounce.
Stocks were mostly lower in Europe and in Asia. London's FTSE 100 ended down 0.2% to 6419, and Frankfurt's Xetra DAX was 0.1% weaker at 6957. Tokyo's Nikkei was down 0.1% at 17,876, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.1% to 20,568.