Stocks Search for Direction

Updated from 9:37 a.m. EDT

Stocks in New York were hugging the flat line Friday, as traders tackled another round of earnings releases and a fresh set of economic data.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was gaining 38 points at 9219, and the S&P 500 was up 3.1 points to 957. The Nasdaq gave back 5.5 points to 1693.

On Thursday, the major averages ended a choppy day with gains following the release of a better-than-expected third-quarter GDP number.

Corporate earnings releases were again in focus. NYSE Euronext ( NYX) reported a 33% year-over-year decrease in profits for the third quarter, but met the Street's expectations.

Elsewhere in the financial sector, British bank Barclays ( BCS) announced plans to raise $11.8 billion from the private sector, thus avoiding participation in the U.K.'s bank-bailout plan.

As for the automakers, Ford ( F) announced it would bring 1,000 workers back to a truck plant in anticipation of high demand for one of its new trucks.

Back in earnings news, energy company Chevron ( CVX) reported rising profit thanks to high oil prices.

Meanwhile, fast-food restaurant operator Burger King ( BKC) announced income that rose slightly year over year and reaffirmed its forward outlook. Cleaning-products maker Clorox ( CLX) likewise saw a slight rise in earnings for the quarter and affirmed its profit guidance, although it tempered its revenue expectations.

In other automotive news, Nissan ( NSANY) reported a decline in quarterly profit and guided lower for the remainder of the year.

Reuters also reported that talks of a merger between General Motors ( GM) and Chrysler are being pushed back as the Bush administration refused to fund a deal.

Looking at the day's economic data, the Department of Commerce reported that consumer spending declined 0.3% in September after holding steady in July and August. Economists were expecting a 0.2% contraction in spending. Personal income growth registered at 0.2%, ahead of consensus estimates of 0.1% but less than a 0.5% increase in August.

The Department of Labor also said its employment cost index rose 0.7% for the third quarter, a rise that was in line with expectations.

The Chicago Purchasing Managers Association's manufacturing index for October registered at 37.8, down from 56.7 in September and below the consensus forecast of 48. The University of Michigan's revised consumer sentiment index came in at 57.6, slightly above the 57.5 expected by analysts.

Shifting to commodities, crude oil was losing $1.30 to $64.66 a barrel, and gold was flat at $738.50 an ounce.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were rising in price. The 10-year note was up 22/32 to yield 3.88%, and the 30-year was gaining 29/32, yielding 4.28%. The dollar was rising vs. the euro, yen and pound.

Credit markets continued to improve, as three-month dollar Libor, a measure of the rate banks charge one another for large loans, declined 16 basis points to 3.03%. Overnight Libor dropped 33 basis points to 0.41%.

Across the seas, European exchanges were mixed, as the FTSE in London registered losses and the Dax in Frankfurt was logging gains. As for Asian markets, Japan's Nikkei and Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed on the downside.

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