NEW YORK (
) -- Stocks finished flat Friday after investors digested mixed signals on the state of the nation's consumers.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
finished up 13 points, or 0.1%, to 10,625. The
slipped a fraction of a point, or 0.02%, to 1150, while the
shed 1 point, or 0.03%, to 2368.
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Despite today's meandering trading, the major averages managed to drift higher this week. The Dow added 0.6% since last Friday, while the S&P gained 1%. For the week, the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 1.8%.
Dirk van Dijk, chief equity strategist at Zacks Investment Research, said the dearth of market-moving data during the week kept most stocks trading in a tight range.
"Earnings season is over, and there was really no significant economic data this week. You really had to hunt for things. Today's retail sales report was probably the most important for the week," van Dijk said. "Just not a lot of info."
But that changes next week as a flood of data and a statement from the
policy-making arm following its regular meeting are due, which will put the spotlight on the banking, housing, industrial and basic material sectors, among others. Capitol Hill will also be in focus as news reports suggested health care and financial regulatory reform news may be made in the coming week.
Stocks lost momentum today after the University of Michigan delivered its preliminary read on March consumer sentiment, which dipped to 72.5 after registering 73.6 in February, hinting shoppers' psyches may have been affected by the struggling labor market and other economic uncertainties. Street analysts had forecast sentiment to hit 74 during the month, according to consensus figures provided by Briefing.com.
"I'm looking at this number thinking it's not telling us much and won't tell us much until we see some job growth," said Chris Low, economist at FTN Financial. "The reality is people look out the window to see if things have picked up."
But a separate report showed
rose unexpectedly last month. Retail sales rose 0.3% in February, advancing 0.8%, excluding autos. The figures were much better than the decrease of 0.2% that economists had been expecting and for growth of 0.5%, excluding autos. February's sales build on an uptick of 0.1% in January.
Michael James, managing director at Wedbush Morgan Securities, said stalling equities were to be expected today despite the sentiment or retail assessments, considering the recent run-up by stocks. The S&P 500 closed at a 17-month high Thursday, also a key technical level, and the index has improved more than 4% since the beginning of the month. The morning's data, then, only heightened his enthusiasm for the retail sector, saying "the group continues to attract more buyers than sellers."
A few retailer names touched 52-week highs, including
. The S&P Retail Index rose 0.6%.
A class of retailer earnings also highlighted the sector today.
finished down 0.8% despite beating profit estimates before the opening bell.
shares rocketed up 29.9% to $4.04 after outpacing the Street's first-quarter forecasts.
Pacific Sunwear of California
unveiled opposite results late Thursday, the former recording a 42% profit spike and the latter showing a 17% sales tumble. Aeropostale added 4.2% to close at $28.18, while Pacific Sunwear lost 15.5% at $4.86.
Low said sluggishness in the broader equities may be because "we haven't really had clean data in two months" as a result of harsh weather last month. The creation of this "information vacuum" affected some data more than others, though he says that the retail sales figures are more reliable because they use the entire month for measurement as opposed to any particular week.
"I suspect we'll get the March and April data, and it'll look stronger, and the market will break out of this sideways pattern," said Low, who remains bullish on stocks.
The Commerce Department also said January business inventories remained unchanged, despite projections for 0.1% growth following a 0.2% decline in December.
led advancers on the Dow.
Bank of America
fell hardest among the blue chips. The pharmaceutical manufacturer, in particular, was singed by disheartening drug study results, sending shares 1.2% lower at $17.08.
, who's volume topped 1 billion, Bank of America and General Electric were the most actively traded on the
New York Stock Exchange
, which had a listed volume of 4.9 billion.
surged 7.1% and leant a hand to the rest of the materials space after the fertilizer operation
raised its first-quarter profit outlook due to a
"sharp rebound" in demand. The firm now expects earnings to range between $1.30 to $1.50 a share, compared with its previous estimate between 70 cents to $1 a share.
Elsewhere in the agriculture realm,
said it would stop pursuing its $5.4 billion acquisition of
later accepted a buyout offer from CF, only after Norway's
failed to clinch its own deal for Terra. CF shares traded 3.9% lower at $96.73, while Terra lost 1.2% at $46.33. Agrium shares climbed nearly 8% to $72.10.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed Friday that
Janet Yellen, the current president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, is the president's favorite to replace current Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn, who will retire this summer. Van Dijk called the pick a "superb" one, saying she is "not going to want to step on the breaks too soon."
"She was one of the ones who spotted the crisis the soonest," he said. "She wasn't pounding the table, but she was much more on top of the situation than any of the senior administration figures at the time or colleagues at the Fed. I think that's a big point in her favor."
shares surged to a new all-time high, the same day it began accepting preorders on its iPad. Apple ultimately closed 0.5% higher at $226.70.
In other earnings news,
surpassed analysts' profit estimates by a penny.
sank 4.8% Friday after missing second-quarter profit forecasts late Thursday. Investors also turned jittery on an unimpressive profit forecast.
added 0.3% to close at $14.38 after beating estimates following Thursday's session.
shares climbed 6.6% higher, with a
report citing speculation that the grocery store operation may be the
target of a buyout.
Oil prices, which had been boosted earlier by a report from the
International Energy Agency forecasting higher global oil demand in 2010, sank in the afternoon. The April delivery contract settled 87 cents lower at $81.24 a barrel.
The April gold contract slipped $6.50 to settle at $1,101.70 an ounce.
The dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index down by 0.6%.
The benchmark 10-year Treasury advanced 7/32, diluting the yield to 3.703%.
Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.09%, and Japan's Nikkei gained 0.8%. The FTSE in London added nearly 0.2%, and the DAX in Frankfurt rose 0.3%.
--Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York