Stocks rise, but Fed stimulus concern still grips markets

Stocks on Friday mostly gained, cutting weekly losses, as investors remained cautious before a Federal Reserve policy meeting next week that should shed light on the central-bank's plans for its asset-purchasing program.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had dropped over 100 points on both Wednesday and Thursday, closed 15 points higher, with Visa pacing gains.

The S&P 500 ended fractionally lower, with energy and telecommunications hardest hit and materials and industrials the best performers of its 10 major sectors.

Verizon Communications and AT&T were among the telecommunications companies hit a day after U.S. wireless carriers agreed to make it easier for consumers to 'unlock' their devices for use on rivals' networks, caving to pressure from consumer groups and regulators.

The Nasdaq rose 2 points, with the technology-heavy index posting an 11th consecutive Friday gain.

"We think stocks are showing signs of indigestion and discounting to some degree the possibility of a taper next week. Clearly, Wednesday is a big day for capital markets globally," said Jim Russell, senior equity strategist for US Bank Wealth Management, referring to the two-day Federal Open Market Committee session that starts Tuesday. The Fed may consider tapering off its $85 billion monthly bond purchasing policy which has buoyed markets.

"Wall Street's confusion around this is there is a case to be made to begin now, and not to," he said.

Slightly stronger employment numbers over the last four months, elevated consumer confidence and rising home prices all argue in favor of the Fed beginning to scale back on its bond purchases sooner rather than later. "The case against taper literally centers on numbers we got this morning. Inflation remains very tame at this time," Russell added of data from the Labor Department that had wholesale prices falling for a third month in November, down 0.1 percent after a 0.2 percent drop in October.

"Everybody is so concerned that the Fed meeting is going to surprise us with an announcement on tapering -- I don't buy it; four or five years of very accommodative policy doesn't switch on a dime, but that's what is playing with the market's blood pressure this week," said Charlie Smith, chief investment officer at Fort Pitt Capital in Pittsburgh.

Texas Industries surged after Bloomberg reportied it was exploring options including a sale. Adobe Systems rallied after reporting more customers for its online software in the fourth quarter than expected.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude-oil futures fell 90 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $96.60 a barrel and gold futures rose $9.70, or 0.8 percent, to $1,234.60 an ounce.

The dollar held steady against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners and borrowing costs reflected in the 10-year Treasury note fell, with the benchmark's yield down 1 basis point at 2.87 percent.

Helping bolster sentiment, the House of Representatives late Thursday approved a budget that curbs automatic spending reductions and averts another government shutdown. The bipartisan legislation, which shields corporate tax breaks favored by Republicans and entitlement programs supported by Democrats, now goes to the Senate for approval and also needs the signature of President Obama.