NEW YORK – U.S. blue-chip stocks fell Friday, wrapping up a volatile week, as a storm threatening the Gulf of Mexico sent crude oil prices higher and prompted investors to unload industrial shares such as Boeing Co. (BA) and United Technologies Corp. (UTX)
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 20.41 points, or 0.18 percent, to end at 11,284.05. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index inched down just 0.97 of a point, or 0.07 percent, to finish at 1,295.09.
But the Nasdaq Composite Index added 3.18 points, or 0.15 percent, to close at 2,140.29, with a major assist from Apple Computer (AAPL) Inc.
Demand for stocks receded as reports early in the week showed a larger-than-expected slowdown in the housing market, which in turn, may hurt consumer spending.
"Simply put, the combination of the housing numbers with a rebound in oil prices this Friday, dampened any enthusiasm still out there towards equities," said Kurt Karl, chief U.S. economist at Swiss Re in New York. "Everybody is getting more cautious."
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, automaker General Motors Corp. (GM) and industrial conglomerate United Technologies led the Dow's decline in light trading.
For the week, the Nasdaq lost 1.1 percent, followed by the Dow's drop of 0.9 percent and the S&P 500's decline of 0.6 percent.
On the New York Stock Exchange, the biggest percentage loser was H&R Block Inc. (HRB) Its shares sank as much as 11 percent to a session low at $20.30 after the largest U.S. tax preparer warned of losses at its struggling mortgage unit. H&R Block closed on Friday at $20.81, down 8.7 percent, or $1.98.
The sharp drop in H&R Block's stock hurt other mortgage lenders such as Indymac Bancorp Inc. , which fell 4.8 percent, or $1.99, to $39.46 on the NYSE.
Most of Friday's session was dominated by nervousness about rising oil prices, which tend to increase operating costs for corporations, while making consumers more cautious about spending.
Crude oil futures for October delivery rose on concerns that a storm that could damage oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or curtail production there.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) shares fell 0.4 percent, or 29 cents, to $70.43 on the NYSE and ranked among the heaviest weights on the S&P 500.
The rise in crude oil prices overshadowed investors' relief that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech at an economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, contained no hint the Fed would raise interest rates to fight inflation.
"We were expecting some guidance from Bernanke, but there was none," said Larry Peruzzi, senior equity trader at The Boston Co. Asset Management, in Boston. "Many traders called it a day after that."
U.S. crude oil for October delivery settled up 15 cents to $72.51 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It traded as high as $73.75.
Among the Dow's top-weighted losers, shares of aircraft manufacturer Boeing slid 1.7 percent, or $1.31, to $73.93, while GM's stock dropped 1.8 percent, or 55 cents, to $29.33, and United Technologies shed 0.5 percent, or 32 cents, to $60.67. All trade on the NYSE.
The Nasdaq 100 got its biggest lift from Apple, which rose 1.4 percent, or 94 cents, to close at $68.75, a day after the company forecast no financial fallout from a recall of notebook PC batteries.
Shares of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. (XMSR) climbed after the company said Friday the U.S. Federal Communications Commission had given it the go-ahead to sell three radio models after concerns about whether they met regulations.
XM Satellite gained 4.6 percent, or 59 cents, to close at $13.49 on Nasdaq.
One of the Nasdaq's biggest net gainers was Ansoft Corp. . The software company's stock surged 15.3 percent, or $3.11, to end at $23.38 on Friday, a day after it reported first-quarter results above Wall Street's estimates. Ansoft also said it expects continued revenue growth in the second quarter. Earlier in Friday's session, the stock hit a fresh 52-week high at $23.83.
Volume on the NYSE was light, with 1.06 billion shares changing hands, well below last year's daily average of 1.61 billion shares. On Nasdaq, about 1.32 billion shares traded, also well below last year's daily average of 1.80 billion.
Advancers outnumbered decliners by a ratio of about 9 to 8 on both the NYSE and the Nasdaq.