Stocks end four-day advance as energy slips

A four-day advance for stocks came to an end on Wall Street as falling commodity prices brought down the stocks of energy and mining companies.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange, Friday. Stocks declined on Friday, pulling back from record levels set a day earlier.

A four-day surge in the stock market came to an end on Friday as falling commodity prices brought down energy and mining companies.

Signs of a slowing economy rattled commodity markets. The price of crude oil dropped 2 percent to $91 a barrel as weak U.S. economic reports followed forecasts for weaker oil demand.

Gold plunged $64 to $1,501 an ounce, reaching its lowest level since July 2011. One trigger for the latest plunge was a government report that U.S. wholesale prices fell the most in 10 months in March. Traders tend to sell gold when inflation wanes. Traders also pushed gold prices lower on reports that Cyprus may sell some of its gold reserves, possibly prompting other weak European countries like Italy and Spain to do the same.

Compared to commodities markets, the stock market looked stable. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped just 0.08 of a point to close at 14,865.05. The Standard & Poor's 500 lost 4.52 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,588.85.

The two major indexes finished the week with strong gains: The Dow rose 2.1 percent, the S&P 500 rose 2.3 percent.

David Joy, the chief market strategist for Ameriprise Financial, said it's as if the stock market is telling a different story from the bond and commodity markets. Copper and other industrial metals slid along with gold on Friday, while Treasury yields sank near their lows for the year. He said both imply traders in those markets are more worried about a slowdown.

"It gives me pause," Joy said. "Commodities and bonds are telling stock investors: don't be in such a hurry to say the U.S. economy is in great shape."

The sharp drop in gold futures tugged down mining companies. Barrick Gold lost 8 percent to $22.62, Newmont Mining fell 6 percent to $36.37 and Freeport-McMoRan 3 percent to $31.92.

Materials and energy stocks fell the most of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500, 1.5 percent and 1.3 percent.

The Nasdaq composite dropped 5.21 points to 3,289, a fall of 0.2 percent.

A handful of reports out Friday heightened concerns about the economy's health. Sales at U.S. retailers fell in March and companies restocked their shelves at a much slower pace in February than in the month before. That's usually a sign that companies expect weaker spending from consumers and businesses. A measure of consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan also slumped.

The stock market has held up well despite a string of recent weak economic reports. That resilience has "left a lot of investors scratching their heads," said Lawrence Creatura, a fund manager at Federated Investors.

This earnings season will likely determine which direction the market takes, Creatura said. Next week, when Bank of America, Google and other big names turn in their quarterly results, could make the difference.

Wells Fargo reported stronger quarterly profits on Friday but its revenue fell short of Wall Street's forecasts. The bank's stock lost 1 percent to $37.21.

The weaker economic reports pushed traders into the safety of Treasurys, sending yield near their lows for the year. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dropped to 1.72 percent from 1.79 percent late Thursday. That's close to its low point of the year, 1.69 percent, reached April 5.

Investors seem to be in the habit of brushing off worrying news this year, Creatura said. Recent threats from North Korea, for instance, have rattled South Korean markets. The country's main index, the KOSPI, has lost 4 percent over the past month.

But any concerns about a war between the two countries have yet to shake U.S. markets. South Korea may be the seventh-largest trading partner of the U.S., but most investors see North Korea's bellicose talk as more bluff, Creatura said. Everything could change, however, if war looked likely.

"We're following the situation," he said. "It's part of our job. But just because there hasn't been a reaction so far doesn't mean we'll overlook really bad news."

Among other companies making moves Friday:

— M&T Bank lost 4 percent to $100.24. The bank said it had to delay its merger with Hudson City Bancorp after the Federal Reserve flagged the bank's compliance with money-laundering rules. Hudson City fell 6 percent to $8.29.

— Evertec gained 2 percent in its first day as a publicly traded company. The payment processer raised more than $500 million in its initial public offering, with its shares priced at $20. Evertec's stock rose 44 cents to $20.44.

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