NEW YORK – The stock market has fallen for the fourth straight day after a mixed batch of readings on consumer spending contributed to a muddled picture of the economy.
The major indexes fluctuated all day in light trading. Many traders were on vacation, and those who were working had little reason to make major moves because of economic data that remain confusing.
The Commerce Department said that retail sales rose 0.4 percent in July. The number was below economists' forecasts. It showed that consumers are shying away from many purchases.
Better news came from the University of Michigan/Reuters survey of consumer sentiment for the first part of August, which showed consumers are slightly more optimistic.
The Dow Jones industrial average is down 16, or 0.2 percent, at 10,303. The Dow has lost almost 400 points in four days.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 4, or 0.4 percent, to 1,079. The Nasdaq composite index fell 16, or 0.8 percent, to 2,173.
Losing issues were ahead of gainers by almost 4 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 866 million shares.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fluctuated Friday after a mixed batch of readings on consumer spending contributed to a muddled picture of the economy.
The major stock indexes moved in a narrow band, alternately rising and falling in very light trading. Many traders were away on vacation, and those who were working had little reason to make any major moves because of economic data that remains confusing.
The Commerce Department said that retail sales rose 0.4 percent in July. That was an improvement after two months of sales declines. But the number was just below economists' forecast of a gain of 0.5 percent. The report did show strength in auto sales, but it also showed that consumers are shying away from other purchases.
Some better news came from the University of Michigan/Reuters survey of consumer sentiment for the first part of August, which showed consumers are slightly more optimistic. An index based on the survey came in at 69.6, slightly above analysts' estimates and up from July's 67.8.
Earlier Friday, retailer J.C. Penney Co. lowered its earnings forecast for the year, citing expectations that consumer spending will be slow. J.C. Penney joined competitor Kohl's Corp., which lowered its earnings outlook on Thursday.
These latest reports fell in line with a long string of conflicting data that has left investors unsure about where the economy is headed. Consumer spending has remained weak along with the labor market. And there are no signs that employers are ready to start hiring at a pace to help lift the economy. On Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time rose last week.
Although J.C. Penney and Kohl's had disappointments for investors, second-quarter earnings overall have been strong and company executives are optimistic. The split between economic and earnings numbers has added to investors' murky view of the economy.
That uncertainty has led to heavy selling this week. The Dow Jones industrial average has lost 380 points over the past three days. But the big drop may also have lured some buyers back into the market Friday.
"Maybe it's getting ready to be bought again," Philip S. Dow, director of equity strategy at RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis, said of the market. He noted that the market's recent declines have made stocks more attractive.
Still, that doesn't mean analysts are looking for the market to rally.
"We're in a fragile market," said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist, Weeden & Co. in Greenwich, Conn. He noted that the market's decline is feeding the lack of confidence among consumers and investors. That inevitably has an impact on the economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 10.82, or 0.1 percent, at 10,330.09. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.06, or 0.14 percent, to 1,082.55. The Nasdaq composite index fell 7.91, or 0.4 percent, to 2,182.36.
Rising stocks were ahead of losers by 4 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to an extremely light 601 million shares.
The yield on the Treasury's 10-year note, which is used to set rates on consumer loans including mortgages, was 2.69 percent, down from late Wednesday's 2.75 percent. Yields fall as prices rise. Treasury prices have risen sharply this week as investors — worried about the economy and watching stocks fall — sought a safer place for their money.
Dow said much of the trading was likely coming from high-frequency traders, who used complex mathematical models and computers to make money off small differences in stock prices. Many other investors still have a lot of cash on the sidelines while they wait to see where the market is headed, Dow said.
Stocks drew some support from the announcements of two planned corporate acquisitions. Asset manager Blackstone Group is paying $542.7 million to take power plant owner Dynegy Inc. private. The deal also calls for Blackstone to assume more than $4 billion in Dynegy's debt. Dynegy will also sell four power plants to NRG Energy Inc.
Dynegy rose $1.73, or 62 percent, to $4.51. Blackstone fell 41 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $10.60. And NRG fell 35 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $22.06.
IBM Corp. said it's buying Unica Corp., a marketing services company, for $480 million. IBM fell 32 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $127.98. Unica more than doubled in price, rising $11.30 to $20.85.
J.C. Penney fell 83 cents, or 4 percent, to $19.97. Other retailers also fell, but Macy's Inc., which has lured customers away from Penney, climbed. Macy's rose 4 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $20.29.
Overseas markets were mixed. London's FTSE-100 index rose 0.2 percent, while Germany's DAX fell 0.4 percent and the CAC-40 index in Paris fell 0.3 percent.
Investors in Europe were more concerned with signs of slowing growth in the U.S. than in their own economies. News that the European economy had grown 1 percent during the second quarter gave some support to stocks, but it was not enough to lift them across the board.
Earlier, Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.4 percent.