Wall Street capped a week of volatile trading Friday with an uneven finish and the market's first weekly gain since November.
Losses in technology, energy and industrial stocks outweighed gains in retailers and other consumer-focused companies. Stocks spent much of the day wavering between small gains and losses, ultimately unable to maintain the momentum from a two-day winning streak.
The S&P 500 index fell 3.09 points, or 0.1%, to 2,485.74. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 76.42 points, or 0.3%, to 23,062.40. The average had briefly climbed 243 points.
The Nasdaq added 5.03 points, or 0.1%, to 6,584.52. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks climbed 6.11 points, or 0.5%, 1,337.92.
The major indexes closed with their first weekly gain in what's been an otherwise painful last month of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 rose more than 2% for the week, while the Nasdaq added nearly 4%. The indexes are still all down around 10% for the month and on track for their worst December since 1931.
“It seems like convulsions in either direction have been the real norm for much of December and that's certainly been the case this week,” said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager for Private Wealth Management at U.S. Bank. “The initial push higher and then seeing it subside a little bit is perhaps getting back to a little bit more of a normal environment, reflecting the reality that we have still a number of issues overhanging the market.”
The market's sharp downturn since October has intensified this month, erasing all its 2018 gains and nudging the S&P 500 closer to its worst year since 2008.
Investors have grown worried that the testy U.S.-China trade dispute and higher interest rates would slow the economy, hurting corporate profits. This week — with trading volumes lower than usual because of the Christmas holiday — served up some pronounced swings in the market.
A steep sell-off during the shortened trading session on Christmas Eve left the major indexes down more than 2%. On Wednesday, stocks mounted a stunning rebound, posting the market's best day in 10 years as the Dow shot up more than 1,000 points for its biggest single-day point gain ever.
The market appeared ready to give much of those gains back on Thursday, before a late-afternoon reversal that erased a 600-point drop in the Dow left the market with a two-day winning streak.
“The market was so oversold and then Wednesday and Thursday were key reversal days, but also stronger closes than opens,” said Janet Johnston, portfolio manager at TrimTabs Asset Management.
“The market was starting to price in the worst-case scenario: a recession,” she said.
Still, the market's downturn has left stocks substantially less expensive than they were heading into the fourth quarter, Johnston noted. “And that sets up a good buying opportunity.”
Technology companies, a big driver of the market's gains before things deteriorated in October, were among Friday’s big decliners. Alliance Data Systems dropped 1.4% to $149.82.
Oil prices recovered after wavering in midmorning trading. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 1.6% to settle at $45.33 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, inched up 0.1% to close at $52.20 a barrel in London.
Despite the rise in oil prices, energy sector stocks declined. Cabot Oil & Gas slid 3.5% to $22.95, while Hess lost 2.8% to $40.38.
Retailers and other consumer-focused companies fared better. Amazon rose 1.1% to $1,478.02.
Wells Fargo rose 0.5% to $45.78 on news that the lender has agreed to pay $575 million in a national settlement with state attorneys general over its fake bank accounts scandal. Tesla climbed 5.6% to $333.87 after naming two independent directors to its board under an agreement with federal regulators.