NEW YORK – Stocks ended with tiny gains Friday, as investors weighed a fourth straight decline in oil prices against a lower-than-expected report on November job growth. Indexes trimmed their initial gains after a senior OPEC delegate said the producer group could not rule out cutting oil production if prices slide further.
The Dow Jones industrial average (search) closed up 7.09 points, or 0.07 percent, at 10,592.21 and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) was up just 0.84 of a point, or 0.07 percent, to end at 1,191.17. The Nasdaq Composite Index (search) edged up 4.39 points, or 0.20 percent, to close at 2,147.96.
The Standard & Poor's 500 ended at its highest mark in more than three years -- for the second time this week. And the tech-driven Nasdaq scored its highest close since January. For the week, the Dow ended up 0.67 percent, the S&P advanced 0.72 percent and the Nasdaq ended up 2.19 percent.
Crude oil futures continued their decline, falling below the $43-per-barrel mark for the first time in 2 1/2 months. A barrel of light crude settled at $42.54, down 71 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search), raising hopes that a continued slide in oil prices would lift an economy weighed down by high energy costs.
Oil's performance helped investors look past a worrisome jobs report. The Labor Department (search) said there were 112,000 new jobs in November, far less than the 200,000 Wall Street expected. Furthermore, October's blockbuster gains of 330,000 were adjusted down to 307,000.
"Certainly, the jobs number was a surprise, but it's still a positive," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. "It still demonstrates that our economy is moving forward and creating jobs. And oil's been a nice boost this week as well."
The Labor Department said the November unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 percent from 5.5 percent in October. The jobs data cast a shadow across an already downbeat holiday sales season, with consumers apparently worried about jobs and high oil prices.
"The data is surprisingly weak and disappointing and a bit of a shock to the markets because we'd been in a mode of expecting more jobs," said Robert MacIntosh, chief economist at Eaton Vance Management.
Jobs and oil have been Wall Street's biggest concerns in the second half. With gasoline and other energy prices unusually high, consumers have been less willing to spend, as seen by the sluggish start to the holiday shopping season. And without more spending, companies have been less willing to create new jobs, which would mean more consumers with disposable income.
However, investors remained bullish on stocks, with inflows of capital continuing to climb since the presidential election.
Early in the afternoon, explosions in Madrid caused a slight dent in equities, traders said, but stocks quickly recovered. The Basque separatist group ETA (search) set off five bombs at gas stations around Madrid on Friday, putting a stranglehold on the city at the start of a long holiday weekend.
The dollar fell further, hitting a new record low against the euro. By late Friday afternoon, the euro was at $1.3458, a new record low, according to Reuters data.
A falling dollar can hurt stocks by dissuading foreign investors from buying U.S. assets, although a lower greenback can increase U.S. exporters' profits.
Tech stocks gained traction after Intel Corp.'s (INTC) bullish mid-quarter update, released late Thursday. The semiconductor giant and Dow component said its revenues would be substantially higher than Wall Street expected. Intel surged $1.20, or 5.28 percent, to $23.91.
Other chip makers rode Intel's coattails and moved higher. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) was up 60 cents at $23.22, Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN) gained 19 cents to $25.10 and National Semiconductor Corp. (NSM) rose 15 cents to $16.20.
IBM Corp. (IBM) added $1.32 to $97.08 after The New York Times reported that the Dow component is considering a sale of its personal computer business to Chinese computer maker Levono Group Ltd. IBM could get $1 billion to $2 billion in the transaction, according to the report.
But Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL) tumbled nearly 4 percent, or $2.53, to $62.68 after an analyst at Needham & Co. lowered the investment rating on the stock to "hold" from "buy."
Shares of aluminum companies Alcoa Inc. (AA) and Alcan Inc. (AL) fell after the brokerage firm UBS lowered its investment ratings to "neutral" from "buy" on both companies. Alcoa fell 57 cents to $32.86 and Alcan slipped 63 cents to $48.79.
A number of airlines reported an increase in business for November, as more people took to the skies during the Thanksiving holiday. Among those reporting substantial increases in passenger miles, American Airlines parent AMR Corp. (AMR) slipped 13 cents to $10.50, Alaska Air Group Inc. (ALK) was unchanged at $32.90 and America West Holdings Corp. (AWA) was down 2 cents at $6.35.
Mandalay Resort Group Inc. (MBG) climbed 50 cents to $70.19 after the hotel and casino giant reported earnings that beat Wall Street forecasts by 11 cents per share, fueled by record-setting performances at each of the company's Las Vegas Strip properties. The company is on track for an early 2005 merger with MGM Mirage Inc., shares of which was unchanged at $60.70.
Overall, trading was active, with 1.56 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange (search), above the 1.4 billion daily average for last year. About 2.42 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, above the 1.69 billion daily average last year.
Advancers outnumbered decliners by 5 to 3, although decliners outnumbered advancers by 8 to 7 on Nasdaq.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 0.30, or 0.05 percent, at 642.21.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.93 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 closed down 0.07 percent, France's CAC-40 fell 0.73 percent for the session, and Germany's DAX index lost 0.18 percent.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.