Stocks Coast as Investors Await More Economic Indicators

Wall Street closed out an erratic session with a modest advance Friday as investors awaited further signs about the health of the economy. Falling oil prices and a contract win for Boeing Co. (BA) offered some support to a lackluster market, and the major indexes all ended with solid gains for the week.

Energy and materials stocks were weaker Friday, while utilities and financials fared better and generally moved higher. The muted trading followed a sell-off Thursday after Democrats wrested control of Congress from Republicans and touched off concern about sectors from health care to defense.

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"Oil prices have fallen off a bit and that's a positive but there just doesn't seem to be anything to give the markets a boost," said Ed Peters, chief investment officer at PanAgora Asset Management Inc. "I think the market is just taking a rest here."

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 5.13, or 0.04 percent, to 12,108.43.

Broader stock indicators showed modest advances. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 2.57, or 0.19 percent, at 1,380.90, and the Nasdaq composite index was up 13.71, or 0.58 percent, at 2,389.72.

Bonds rose, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note falling to 4.59 percent from 4.63 percent late Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

For the week, the Dow rose 1.02 percent, while the S&P added 1.22 percent and the Nasdaq gained 2.53 percent, advances achieved largely on the market's upbeat feeling about the election the first half of the week. That sentiment gave way to uncertainty Thursday about whether the Democrats would be sympathetic to business issues.

Light, sweet crude was down $1.54 at $59.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the International Energy Agency lowered its forecast for worldwide demand this year.

Peters contends Wall Street will need economic news to really move the markets now that most companies have reported third-quarter earnings. He cited such news as minutes from the Federal Reserve's most recent meeting, which are set for release next week.

"I think there is still a concern that interest rates will be rising, that the Fed will tighten further," he said. Investors want the economy to show adequate signs that it is slowing so the central bank will lower short-term interest rates.

Chris Hensen, portfolio manager for U.S. equities at MFC Global Investment Management, contends that while the markets were largely flat Friday, stocks aren't necessarily done moving higher.

Generally, the final months of the year are good for stocks as investors engage in a bit of window dressing to boost their portfolios. Hensen doesn't think the unusually strong October, when the major indexes all advanced at least 3 percent, will preclude a further climb through the end of the year.

He said investors are looking to earnings next week from several retailers as well as economic data such as the consumer price index, which is the key measure of inflation.

In corporate news Friday, Boeing won out over Lockheed Martin Corp. and United Technologies Corp.'s Sikorsky division in securing a contract worth as much as $13 billion to build combat search and rescue helicopters for the U.S. Air Force. Boeing was up 51 cents at $85.62, while Lockheed was up 38 cents at $85.75 and United Technologies was up 15 cents at $65.06.

Insurance company American International Group Inc. (AIG) rose $1.59, or 2.3 percent, to $69.63 after its third-quarter profit more than doubled due to higher sales and a quiet hurricane season.

Tanox Inc., a drug developer, jumped $6.11, or 44.8 percent, to $19.75 after it agreed to be acquired by pharmaceutical company Genentech Inc. for $919 million. Genentech was up 24 cents at $81.59.

Hormel Foods Corp. rose $1.27, or 3.7 percent, to $36.10 after the meat processor raised its forecasts for the fourth-quarter as well as 2006 and 2007 amid strength in its specialty foods division.

InfoSonics Corp., which makes mobile phones, fell $1.60, or 27.6 percent, to $4.20 after its third-quarter profit fell from the year-earlier period, which benefited from a gain.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.42 billion shares compared with 1.86 billion Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up 7.09, or 0.93 percent, at 769.15.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 0.53 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 closed down 0.37 percent, Germany's DAX index was down 0.01 percent, and France's CAC-40 was down 0.02 percent.

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