Stocks Gain as Economy, Earnings Strengthen

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock averages gained Friday as investors tracked the European markets and got a boost from better-than-expected trade data and earnings reports. Apple ( AAPL) shares tacked on 1.4% to $474.98.

Weather alerts also were in focus, as the National Weather Service warned that the Northeast and New England are expected to be hurt by a major winter storm Friday and into Saturday. As much as one to two feet of snow is forecast for the New York City metro area to Maine.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 49 points, or 0.35%, at 13,993. The gains weren't enough to boost the blue-chip index into positive territory as it fell 0.12% on the week.

Winners were outpacing losers 21 to eight on the Dow. The strongest gainers were UnitedHealth ( UNH), Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), Microsoft ( MSFT) and Home Depot ( HD).

Boeing ( BA), American Express ( AXP) and Bank of America ( TRV) were among Dow stocks that posted the largest declines.

Boeing shares fell 1.1% as Reuters reported the aerospace giant told two European airlines on Friday that their deliveries of 787 Dreamliner jets would be delayed, as safety investigations into the aircraft continued.

The S&P 500 rose 9 points, or 0.57%, at 1,518. The index increased 0.31% for the week. The Nasdaq added 29 points, or 0.91%, at 3,194. The tech-heavy index ticked up 0.46% for the past five sessions.

Joe Bell, senior equity analyst with Schaeffer's Investment Research, said with the snowstorm set to hit several states, "we could be in for lighter trading than we normally see on option expiration weeks."

"As the broad markets attempt to break free of this recent congestion, the recent volatility in Europe and retail sales could steal the headlines" next week, Bell added.

Any dips in the markets wouldn't surprise Bell. "After a strong rally to start the year and the S&P 500 near the round number 1,500, it was a logical time for a breather," he said.

Apple shares spiked Friday, just a day after David Einhorn asked shareholders to vote against the company's proposal to do away with preferred stock.

Only the utilities sector was ticking lower. All other sectors were rising in the broad market, led by technology, health care, financials and consumer cyclicals.

Volumes were light Friday at 2.96 billion shares on the Big Board and 1.82 billion shares on the Nasdaq. Advancers edged decliners by a ratio of 2.1-to-one on the New York Stock Exchange and 1.7-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

In the economy, the Census Bureau said Friday that the U.S. trade deficit shrank to $38.5 billion in December from $48.7 billion in November. Economists were expecting the deficit to shrink to $46 billion.

A Capital Economics report said that the unexpected narrowing of the U.S. trade deficit essentially ensures that the recently reported dip in fourth-quarter GDP will be revised to a small gain in the second estimate.

The Census Bureau also reported Friday that wholesale inventories fell 0.1% in December after rising by a downwardly revised 0.4% in November. Economists expected wholesale inventories to rise 0.4% in December.

Asian markets closed mostly higher Friday following strong trade data from China, though there were some concerns about holiday season-related distortions of the data. The Nikkei in Japan was an exception, however, finishing down 1.8% while Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed up 0.16%.

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