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Stocks up despite dip in consumer sentiment

Stocks gave up most of their gains to end slightly higher Friday, extending a September rally that has slowed as the month wore on.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stocks gave up most of their gains to end slightly higher Friday, extending a September rally that has slowed as the month wore on.

The Dow Jones industrial tacked on 13 points, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index edged up less than a point. Both traded close to the breakeven level all day. The Dow and other major indexes logged their third-straight weekly advance.

The market started out on an up note following surprisingly strong profit news late Thursday from technology leaders Oracle Corp. and Research in Motion Ltd., which makes BlackBerrys.

Technology and industrial shares were broadly higher, though energy companies were weak following a drop in crude oil. A decline in a measure of consumer confidence from the University of Michigan/Reuters also kept a lid on buying. Gold set another record and Treasury prices edged higher in a sign that investors remain cautious.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index, the measure used most widely by professional investors, briefly edged above a technical trading threshold, but not enough to convince analysts that the market is ready to move sharply higher. Stocks have been on a nearly unbroken upward march in September, driving the S&P up 7.3 percent.

Traders watch such technical barriers closely for clues about where the market might go next. Right now the key level for the S&P 500 is 1,131, its intraday high for June 21 and the top end of its recent trading range. It barely peeked over that level Friday but failed to stay above it, a sign that the market needs more fuel, in the form of good news on the economy or corporate profits, before moving higher again.

Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners, said if the S&P can rally past 1,131, it could surge even further in the next couple of weeks. But if it cannot significantly eclipse that level and falls back below 1,115, roughly its low for the week, "we could go to 1,000 pretty fast," Landesman said.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 13.02, or 0.1 percent, to close at 10,607.85. The Dow is up 5.9 percent in the month to date, defying skeptics who predicted a decline in September, which is historically a weak one for stocks. It has risen in seven of the past eight days.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index inched up 0.93, or 0.08 percent, to 1,125.59, and the Nasdaq composite rose 12.36, or 0.5 percent, to 2,315.61.

For the week, the Dow and S&P are both up 1.4 percent, and the Nasdaq is up 3.3 percent.

The Dow also had three straight weeks of gains in mid- to late July as many big companies delivered positive earnings surprises. However stocks spent most of August in a funk before turning higher again in September as news on the economy started to improve.

In corporate news, Oracle reported fiscal first-quarter earnings that easily topped forecasts after the market closed Thursday. Shares jumped $2.12, or 8.4 percent, to $27.48

Research in Motion also reported a big jump in earnings as it added new subscribers. Investors have been worried about competition to the BlackBerry from Apple Inc.'s iPhone and mobile phones run on Google Inc.'s Android technology. Shares closed up 23 cents at $46.72 but traded as high as $48.74 earlier

Money flowed into Treasurys again after the weak consumer sentiment reading and a report from the Labor Department showed consumer prices rose slightly in August.

Tim Rood, a managing director at The Collingwood Group, said the report on consumer prices might not have been enough to quell concerns about potential deflation. That could force the Federal Reserve to re-enter the bond market and buy more Treasurys and mortgages bonds in an effort to stimulate the economy.

"Just when you think they're all in ... they essentially have to double down," Rood said of the Fed. The central bank ended similar policies, known as quantitative easing, earlier this year only to have growth stagnate.

The yield on the 10-year note, which moves opposite to its price, fell to 2.74 percent from 2.76 percent late Thursday. Its yield is often used to set interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans.

Gold touched a new record high again Friday of $1,284.40 an ounce before pulling back to $1,277.50 an ounce.

Benchmark oil for October delivery fell 91 cents to settle at $73.66 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, helping to send energy shares lower. Chevron fell 59 cents to $78.46.

About four stocks rose for every three that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was heavy at 1.9 billion shares.

Volume was exceptionally high because of the simultaneous expiration of a series of futures and options contracts on stocks and stock indexes.