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Stocks edge down at the end of another winning week

Stocks edge down at the end of another winning week
Trader Frank O'Connell works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

U.S. stock indexes edged down Friday after the falling price of oil weighed on energy companies, but the Standard & Poor’s 500 nevertheless notched its third straight winning week following a brutal stretch in December.

It was a day full of broken streaks — oil fell for the first time in two weeks, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note sank to its first loss in more than a week — but the market remained calm throughout. Gradual moves for markets in recent days have offered a respite following the tumultuous trading that rocked investors in late 2018.

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“After some of the initial gains we saw earlier in the week, I think it’s just a rally looking tired,” Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird, said of Friday’s declines. “I think it’s probably not much more than a chance for people to digest the move and try to get a sense of whether we’ve had a bounce — and this is it — or maybe a pause as we continue to move higher.”

The S&P 500 edged down 0.38 of a point, or less than 0.1%, to 2,596.26. Last month, a typical day for the index was a swing 10 times that.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 5.97 points, or less than 0.1%, to 23,995.95. The Nasdaq composite fell 14.59, or 0.2%, to 6,971.48, and the Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks ticked up 1.95 points, or 0.1%, to 1,447.38.

The S&P 500’s loss was its first in six days, and much of the reason for the slip was the falling price of oil. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 1.9% to settle at $51.59 a barrel, and Brent crude, the international standard, fell 1.9% to $60.48 a barrel.

That helped pull energy stocks in the S&P 500 down 0.6%, the largest loss among the 11 sectors that make up the index. Shares of ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Hess all fell more than 1%.

Big upward moves earlier in the week meant the S&P 500 still had a weekly gain of 2.5%. The index’s three-week winning streak is its longest since August. And the last three weeks of gains have each been of more than 1.8%. The last time that happened was in 2001.

The S&P 500 has been clawing back gains since running to the edge of what traders call a bear market, when it dropped 19.8% between a record high in September and a low on Christmas Eve. Stocks have climbed on soothing words from the Federal Reserve about the future path of interest rates, plus hopes that the U.S.-China trade war may ease. That has helped to at least paper over worries about slowing growth for corporate earnings and the possibility of a looming recession.

Companies nationwide were gearing up to report how much profit they made in the last three months of 2018, and expectations are for a fifth straight quarter of growth that exceeds 10%.

General Motors gave an encouraging sign Friday when it gave better-than-expected profit forecasts for both 2018 and 2019. That helped the automaker’s stock surge 7.1% to $37.18, the biggest gainer in the S&P 500.

Other big-name companies have recently offered a more discouraging picture of revenue trends, citing slowing growth in China and elsewhere.

That’s why analysts say this upcoming earnings reporting season, which kicks off in earnest next week, could be the next trigger for volatility in the market. Delwiche says he wants to hear how optimistic chief executives are, given all the uncertainties about the economy.

“We’ve seen some retrenchment in business confidence,” Delwiche said. “Is it a blip?”

Activision Blizzard sank 9.4% to $46.54 after it and fellow video game maker Bungie announced a surprise termination of their partnership.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.69% from 2.73%.

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Gold rose 0.2% to $1,289.50 an ounce. Silver edged up 0.1% to $15.66 an ounce. Copper rose 0.9% to $2.66 a pound.

Natural gas jumped 4.4% to $3.10 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil fell 1.4% to $1.88 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline slid 2.1% to $1.40 a gallon.

The dollar rose to 108.50 yen from 108.42 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1465 from $1.1500. The British pound rose to $1.2845 from $1.2746.

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