Stock proxies stumbled for a second consecutive week, raising doubt about whether the market's traditional seasonal strength will arrive this year. For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 each fell 2.5% while the Nasdaq Composite lost 4.2%. As was the case Thursday, when a better-than-expected retail sales report failed to inspire buyers, shares stumbled Friday despite a higher-than-expected University of Michigan consumer confidence index. Both reports were "not inconsistent with the economy working its way through its current soft spot," to borrow from the Federal Open Market Committee's statement on Tuesday, when the Fed left rates unchanged, as expected. But neither were the data enough to encourage traders to take aggressive long positions. (A drop in wholesale inventories on Monday and higher-than-expected weekly jobless claims on Wednesday were offsetting negatives.) On Friday, the Dow fell 1.2% to 8433.85, the S&P 500 shed 1.3% to 889.50 and the Comp lost 1362.60. The session left proxies below some key short-term technical levels, namely Monday's intraday lows of Dow 8473, S&P 892 and 1367 for the Comp. A major feature of the week was lackluster trading. Volume did not exceed 1.3 billion shares on the New York Stock Exchange any day this week, nor since Dec. 2, to be specific. Volume has similarly deteriorated in Nasdaq trading. Trading activity bordering on soporific has optimists hopeful. Activity drying up on the downside means major averages are biding time before another move higher, they claim. Skeptics, of course, contend the now two-week backslide is a harbinger of more losses, and volume will increase as more market players cop to that inevitability. Meanwhile, some believe the myopia about stock proxies is obscuring the "real story," or at least, some money-making opportunities. "I'm getting bored talking about these major market averages and waiting and watching the endless churn in a seemingly ever-narrowing range," observed Scott Bleier, founder of HybridInvestors.com. "Something will give soon, but we should be focusing on what is working, even if it won't give us the kind of move like we just enjoyed in the small-cap, beaten-down tech stocks."