Stocks closed modestly mixed on light volume Friday in the last full trading week of the year, which marked the third week in a row of overall gains. Pharmaceutical giants Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK) put a damper on the Dow, while robust earnings from Oracle (ORCL) and BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion (RIMM) helped lift tech stocks.
The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) fell seven points to close at 11,492. The broader S&P 500 ($INX) added one point to finish at 1,244. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ($COMPX) gained six points, or 0.2%, to end at 2,643.
Fears of greater federal regulation hurt drugs stocks. Pfizer and Merck were among the Dow's top losers Friday and health care was the S&P 500's worst-performing sector. However, upbeat earnings from tech bellwether Oracle and RIM late Thursday boosted tech stocks. The Nasdaq is now up 16.5% for 2010 and sitting at nearly a three-year high.
In economic news, November's leading economic indicators (LEI) index rose 1.1%, the Conference Board said Friday. That's the forward-looking index's biggest gain since March, even though it's a touch below a Bloomberg survey that forecast the LEI to rise 1.2%. October's gain was revised slightly lower, to an 0.4% gain from the previous estimate of 0.5%. The index rose 0.6% in September.
The latest earnings and economic news confirm that the economic recovery, while still sluggish, is slowly picking up steam, says Joe Greco, managing director at Meridian Equity Partners. With the S&P 500 up a decent 11.5% for the year-to-date and sitting at a level last seen in September 2008, he says, it's only natural for the market to waver or pause..