NEW YORK – The market had a wishy-washy Friday, capping an equally directionless week.
Stocks inched down for most of the day. Then, with 45 minutes of trading left, the Dow Jones industrial average turned positive. The Standard & Poor’s 500 and the Nasdaq composite soon followed. All ended the day slightly higher.
In a week with no major developments in Europe’s debt crisis and no surprising reports on the U.S. economy, the market struggled to figure out which way to go. The three indexes rose incrementally on Monday and Tuesday and were mixed on Wednesday and Thursday.
In a market that has grown used to triple-digit swings on the Dow, this week brought none – the first time since early May that that’s happened. It was a marked change from the same week a year ago. Back then, the Dow swung by triple digits every day, including one plunge of 634 points, after a downgrade of the U.S. debt rating. This week, the biggest move was a measly 51-point rise on Tuesday.
With many money managers on vacation, trading volume was low. “The sound of silence” is how Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Ethan Harris labeled a note to clients Friday.
Sure, there were piecemeal signs about the world economy for anyone who was looking. But they were less than decisive.
The second-quarter earnings season continued to wind down calmly, with most companies coming in ahead of profit predictions. But China reported a troubling slowdown in its export growth. And the so-called fiscal cliff of 2013, when government spending cuts and higher taxes kick in, looms larger now that earnings season is out of the way.
Friday, the Dow ended up 42.76 points at 13,207.95. The S&P 500 rose 3.07 to 1,405.87. The Nasdaq composite rose 2.22 to 3,020.86.