NEW YORK – Stocks ended narrowly mixed Friday in slow pre-holiday trading as investors took a rare chance to lock in gains and digested economic reports that showed falling consumer sentiment but better-than-expected business activity in the Midwest.
The Dow Jones industrial average (search) ended down 16.75 points, or 0.16 percent, at 10,188.45. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) fell 0.65 points, or 0.06 percent, to 1,120.63. The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite Index (search) rose 2.24 points, or 0.11 percent, to 1,986.74.
Each of the major indexes gained for the week, with the Dow up 2.2 percent, the S&P 500 rising 2.5 percent and the Nasdaq gaining 3.9 percent. That broke a four-week losing streak for the Dow and S&P 500.
For the month, the Dow fell 0.4 percent, the S&P 500 rose 1.2 percent and the Nasdaq jumped 3.5 percent.
Trading was very light ahead of the three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) and General Electric Co. (GE) held back the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, while weakness in the biotechnology sector weighed on the Nasdaq. The S&P Biotechnology Index slipped 0.7 percent.
"People are just wrapping up what they need to do before the holiday weekend," said Jim Fehrenbach, head of Nasdaq trading at Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis.
"There was no new terrorism news, gas prices were up a bit but nothing that was very noteworthy, and none of the (economic) numbers are driving the market higher or lower," Fehrenbach said.
Traders cautioned against reading too much into the market's swings, given that volume was very light before the long weekend. Most U.S. financial markets will be closed Monday for the Memorial Day holiday.
"A lot of traders are not going to be carrying positions before the holiday, so we're seeing some unwinding," said Adam Tracy, director of listed trading at Thomas Weisel Partners in San Francisco. "There's definitely some trepidation about global activity over the weekend after the terrorist warnings we had, so it's not a time to show you have a lot of guts."
The Commerce Department (search) reported that consumer spending rose 0.3 percent in April, another solid gain after an 0.5 percent hike in March.
Even more encouraging, personal income rose by 0.6 percent in April, following a 0.4 percent increase in March — a sign that consumers will have more to spend in the future and can absorb some of the inflationary effects in the market, such as high oil prices.
Joseph V. Battipaglia, chief investment officer at Ryan Beck & Co., attributed the sluggish performance to investors unwilling to make major new commitments ahead of the three-day weekend and with a threat of a terrorist attack looming.
"The best you can say is the market has held the gains of the week," Battipaglia said. "One has to come back to the notion that a very strong quarter profit-wise and very decent economic news suggests that there's an underpinning in the market to hold at these levels."
The University of Michigan's (search) final reading of its May index of consumer sentiment fell to 90.2 from April's final reading of 94.2, according to a report released on Friday and seen by market sources. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a median reading of 94.2.
Business activity in the U.S. Midwest expanded more rapidly than expected in May, encouraging more firms to start hiring, a report from the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago (search) showed.
Crude oil prices surged to end back near $40 a barrel, amid nervousness ahead of a June 3 meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (search) in Beirut.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange (search), July crude settled at $39.88 a barrel, not far below a record $41.85 hit on May 17, the highest since the exchange launched the contract 21 years ago. NYMEX June gasoline futures settled up 5.15 cents at $1.4367 a gallon, not far below its record of $1.47 set on May 20.
El Paso Corp. (EP) was among the New York Stock Exchange's most active issues, on news that a sharp cut in natural gas reserves could force the company to take a charge bigger than the $1 billion it already announced.
Shares of El Paso, a pipeline and energy production company that is restating its financial results after overcounting its natural gas reserves, fell 52 cents, or 6.7 percent, to $7.21.
Novellus Systems Inc.(NVLS) shares rose, a day after it raised its second-quarter revenue and profit targets, citing strength from memory manufacturers and chip makers in Japan, South Korea and the United States. Shares of Novellus, which makes semiconductor production equipment, shot up $1.91, or 6.1 percent, to $33.29.
Frontier Airlines Inc. (FRNT), reporting quarterly earnings before the session, had a harder time absorbing fuel costs. The airline posted a wider-than-expected loss due to rising fuel prices and intense competition among low-fare carriers. Frontier fell 6 cents to $9.30.
Coeur d'Alene Mines (CDE) was down 37 cents at $4.69 after announcing an effort to buy Wheaton River Minerals Ltd. in a $1.8 billion cash-and-stock deal. Wheaton River lost a penny to $2.91.
Trading was moderate, with 1.17 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, less than the 1.4 billion daily average for last year. About 1.22 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, well below last year's 1.69 billion daily average.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 0.28, or 0 percent, at 568.28.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 1.3 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.5 percent, Germany's DAX index was down 0.3 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 0.7 percent.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.