Stocks ended off the highs of the day on Friday, and lower for the week, amid a still uncertain global environment rocked by uncertainty in the Middle East and Japan, although bank stocks got a lift as institutions began announcing dividend increases.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose about 82 points to close at about 11,857, after rising more than 150 earlier in the session, and after climbing back from the lows of the year in Thursday's session.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also rose on Friday, but fell for the week. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, sank more than 7 percent to below 25. The VIX had been as high as 30 earlier in the week as the Japan nuclear crisis unfolded.
Among key S&P 500 sectors, financials, telecom and industrials rose, whileenergy and consumer discretionary fell.
Investors stepped in on Thursday to snap up bargains created by a 5 percent downdraft in the S&P 500, but today's rally has stalled a bit because there's "still a lot of uncertainty out there," Brigandi said.
"Heading into the weekend, a lot of news could come out," he added. "You won’t see too much conviction."
That lack of conviction may have contributed to a late afternoon slide in stocks, as investors were reluctant to hold positions ahead of the weekend with so many questions remaining about Japan's situation and the Middle East, said Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading.
"And nowadays, the way things trade, people want to be flat at the end of the day," Saluzzi said.
And "the odds of getting bad news over the weekend are higher than getting good news," said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners.
Technically, Landesman said he had been waiting for stocks to fall. The loss in the S&P 500 this week, from a high of 1,344 on Feb. 18, to around 1,278 today, isn't enough.
"I still think we test 1230 on this move," Landesman said. "Then I think, barring disastrous news, (traders) will give it at least a shot at holding it there, and maybe rallying off of that."
Stocks got a boost at the beginning after the session after Libya announced it was declaring a ceasefire to protect civilians in the wake of UN Resolution reached late Thursday to create a no-fly zone over the country, although there were reports that fighting was continuing.
The market was already poised to move higher in the wake of a decision by the group of seven largest industrialized nations (G7) to intervene in the currency market to restrain a soaring yen in the wake of last week’sdevastating earthquake in Japan.
Oil prices fell as traders kept their eye on the events in Libya. London Brent crude traded below $114 barrel, while U.S. light sweet crude traded around $101 a barrel.
In the currency markets, the yen weakened just minutes after the announcement on joint intervention, but investors were still trying to figure out whether the move will be successful in the long run. Japanese stocks rose on relief that exports will not be hampered by a strong Japanese currency.
Banks got a lift as the Federal Reserve cited "significant improvment" in recently-completed stress tests of 19 of the biggest banks.
JPMorgan Chase's shares rose after it announced it would increase its dividend to 25 cents a share from 5 cents a share. Wells Fargo also jumped after the bank's board agreed to a special dividend increase of 7 cents a share in the fiscal first quarter, up from 5 cents a share previously. The board also authorized a $200 million share buyback.
BB&T was the first to announce it would increase its dividend. The bank will boost the dividend by 6.7 percent to 16 cents a share, and will add 1 cent to the dividend in the fiscal second quarter.
Also, SunTrust said it began a $1 billion stock buyback, part of its effort to buyback the preferred stock issued to the U.S. Treasury under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, while PNC said it will consider a dividend boost at its April 7 meeting.
And US Bancorp raised its quarterly dividend to 12-and-a-half cents a share from 5 cents, and said it would repurchase 50 million shares.
Today is quadruple witching, when contracts on stock index futures, stock index options, stock equity options, and single stock futures expire. This happens once every quarter, on the third Friday of March, June, September and December.
Volatility is common in the market in the week before quadruple witching as trades are settled, although geopolitical events have played a bigger role this week, the settling and rolling over of trades has led to some additional volatlity, Brigandi at Direxion Funds said.
Cisco shares gained after the company said it would pay a cash dividend to shareholders for the first time. The networking giant will pay shareholders 6 cents a share on April 20.
Nike led consumer discretionary stocks lower after the athletic-wear maker reported a disappointing profit hit by rising oil and cotton prices. The company's shares sank more than 9 percent.
Volume on the consolidated tape of the New York Stock Exchange was 5.1 billion shares, while 1.9 billion changed hands on the NYSE floor.
Treasurys rallied much of the week, driven by investors seeking a safe haven. The 10-year Treasury rose 1 1/32 points this week to 102 30/32, pushing the yield to 3.27 percent. Today the 10-year dropped 8/32 points.
Shares in Europe closed higher after news of the Libyan ceasefire.