NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Equities retreated from their panic levels to inch higher on Friday; investors sighing with relief after a week which included both new record highs and a brutal selloff.

Calming the mood were higher expectations of European stimulus next month while U.S. data continues to be mixed: housing data was better, consumer sentiment worse.

Stocks are expected to tread water in the absence of any reason to rally -- those breakouts are happening offshore in markets such as India, where a new government bolstered hopes of economic reform.

Friday saw a lack of volume as investors sat on their hands, reflecting a reticence to act while the backdrop is mixed but there remain few better places than equities to stash cash.

Still, some risk indicators are bleeping beware: Small caps as measured by the Russell 2000 have hit their lowest level since last November as investors take shelter in their larger liquid peers. Tech stocks are also mostly lower for the week: Facebook (FB) - Get Report, Twitter(TWTR) - Get Report, Amazon(AMZN) - Get Report and Google(GOOG) - Get Report are out of favor while Netflix(NFLX) - Get Report and Cisco(CSCO) - Get Report gained.

As a lackluster reporting season wraps up, stock movement shows harsher punishment and greater reward for companies after results, with receding stimulus drawing focus back to fundamentals. J.C. Penney(JCP) - Get Report was jumping after posting first quarter sales that weren't as terrible as feared. Nordstrom(JWN) - Get Report gained 13% after beating earnings expectations and World Wrestling Entertainment(WWE) - Get Report was simply beaten up: down more than 42% after failing to secure a bonanza in anticipated rights fees.

Meanwhile, the iron-ore price has hit a 20-month low, slipping back to 2012 levels amid concerns of rising supply in China. Not that we care that much, after all we're not Australian. China consumes about two-thirds of the world's iron ore -- most of which is mined in DownUnder.

-- By Jane Searle in New York

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