NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks leveled off mid-morning on Friday after a top Federal Reserve official urged a hastened rate hike timetable.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were flat, while the Nasdaq inched 0.04% lower. If the Dow and S&P 500 can finish higher on Friday, the indices will notch another record-setting high.
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"While a low inflation rate may suggest a somewhat lower-than-normal policy rate, that effect is not large enough to justify remaining at the zero lower bound," St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told an economic forum on Friday.
Bullard, a long-time Fed hawk, said lower oil prices and a tightening job market were indicative of the U.S. economy's strength and justified a rate hike as early as the first quarter of next year.
The comments overshadowed better-than-expected October retail sales which positively portended the holiday shopping season. Spending excluding gasoline, autos and food services increased 0.5%, the biggest increase since August and above an expected 0.4% increase.
A rise in consumer spending has been partially credited to lower oil prices. On Thursday alone, oil plunged 3.7% to under $75 a barrel.
"Four years ago when Americans last devoted less than 10% of total spending to gasoline stations, the cost of gasoline was just $2.73," Interactive Brokers chief market analyst Andrew Wilkinson wrote in a note. "The current cost according to AAA is $2.92, which bodes well for holiday sales ... Lower gasoline prices appear to have inspired consumers to spend more elsewhere."