Stocks Dance Around the Flat Line

Stocks on Wall Street trade mixed on light trading one day after the Christmas holiday.
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Updated from 11:17 a.m. EST

Stocks in New York continued to trade around the baseline during Friday's post-holiday trading session.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was up 32 points at 8500, and the

S&P 500

was gaining 4 points at 869. However, the

Nasdaq

edged down 1.5 points to 1523.

The Economic Cycle Research Institute said its weekly leading index, a metric of U.S. economic growth, was -29.2 for the week of Dec. 19, vs. -30.1 a week prior.

A slew of other data, including dim housing figures, were released earlier in the week. But the composite didn't torment the market, signaling a sense of readiness on the part of investors.

"The preparedness has helped to keep the markets fairly well-balanced despite a cavalcade of very bad economic news, especially the 533,000 decline reported for November payrolls on Dec. 5," writes Tony Crescenzi, chief bond market strategist for Miller Tabak, on his

RealMoney.com blog

. "The latest jobless claims figure, which hit a new high for the cycle on Wednesday, almost certainly will keep the level of preparedness for next Friday's jobs report as high as (or higher than) ahead of the last jobs report."

Crescenzi expects the financial markets are just as prepared for the next month's set of economic data as they were for this month's, in particular for the aforementioned monthly employment report, which comes out next Friday. This doesn't mean that equities will rise if results are near consensus, but it could reduce the downside risk, he says.

As expected,

retail sales

lagged this holiday season. They fell between 5.5% and 8% this compared with the year prior, according to preliminary data from SpendingPulse, a division of MasterCard Advisors. Factoring out auto and gas sales, retail sales fell between 2% and 4%.

Retailers

Macy's

(M) - Get Report

,

Nordstrom

(JWN) - Get Report

,

Saks

(SAKS)

and

Dillard's

(DDS) - Get Report

all traded lower on Friday.

In one retail bright spot,

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

said Friday that this year's holiday season was its "best ever." The Internet retailer said it sold enough high-performance headphones that everyone attending the last three Super Bowls could grab a set and rock out, and enough "Breaking Dawn" books that stacked end to end they would reach the summit of Mt. Everest eight times.

Its best-selling consumer electronics included

Samsung's

52-inch 1080p LCD HDTV, the

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

iPod touch 8 GB and the

Acer

Aspire One 8.9-inch notebook.

Amazon shares enjoyed a mild rise early Friday, as did discount retailers

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

and

Sears

(SHLD)

.

Meanwhile,

GMAC Financial Services

, the financing arm of

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

, made headway late on Christmas Eve in its effort to secure government bailout funds. The

Federal Reserve

announced Wednesday evening that it had approved GMAC as a bank holding company. That designation gives the company access to government programs, including Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were rising. The 10-year was increasing 74/32 to yield 2.2%, and the 30-year was up 27.5/32, yielding 2.6%. The dollar was weaker against the euro, pound and yen.

In commodities, oil was recently rising 90 cents to $36.25 a barrel, while gold shed 30 cents to $847.70 an ounce.

Overseas, European exchanges such as the FTSE in London and the DAX in Frankfurt were closed.

Asian stocks

ended mixed on light volume with stocks in Japan rising despite a report that showed industrial production declined sharply. According to data from the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry, output at Japanese mines and factories dropped 8.1% in November from the previous month. It's the second consecutive month of decline and the worst figure since 1954.

Meanwhile, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics, total net profit at industrial companies in China in the January-to-November period rose 4.9% year over year, vs. growth of 19.4% in the first eight months, China's National Bureau of Statistics said Friday. The indicator, released every three months, measures all industrial enterprises with more than 5 million yuan in annual revenue.

While the statistics bureau only provides year-to-date totals, the latest figure indicates that profits in the three months through November fell about 26% from a year ago, when compared to the January-to-August total and to the same numbers last year, according to a report in

The Wall Street Journal

.

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