Wall Street Again Struggles to Find a Footing

Business and Finance Career - Shares on Wall Street traded in a tight range on Friday as mixed reports on retail sales and business inventories give investors little new insight into the economy.

Markets had been higher at the start of trading Friday after a surprising increase in February retail sales. But shares fell after a Commerce Department report that inventories were unchangedrather than rising as economists had forecast. Economists are hoping that businesses will restock store shelves on a sustained basis and give the economy a lift.

At mid-day, all three major indexes were essentially flat.

A rally in financial stocks Thursday held the market extend their weekly gains. The Dow and S.& P. 500 have been hovering near 15-month highs, but investors have not been in a rush to send them any higher.

Markets in Europe turned lower in late-day trading. European markets had initially received a lift from strong industrial production figures for January in the 16-nation region that shares the euro.

The FTSE 100 in London was up 7.3 points, or 0.13 percent, while the DAX in Frankfurt rose by 11.7 points, or 0.2 percent. But the CAC-40 in France down 5 points, or 0.13 percent.

The euro was also buoyant, spiking to a one-month high against the dollar after official figures showed that industrial production in the euro zone rose by a record 1.7 percent in January from the previous month.

With December now showing a 0.6 percent increase instead of a 1.7 percent fall, the annual rate turned positive for the first time since April 2008.

On Thursday, the S.& P. 500 advanced 0.4 percent, to 1,150.24, above its Jan. 19 close of 1,150.23 — many analysts think the index’s break above the 1,150 mark could augur further gains. The S.& P. now stands at its highest level since Oct. 1, 2008.

David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index, thinks that next week’s trading could well depend on whether the Dow Jones industrial average sustains its break above 10,600.

“This had proved quite a barrier to progress over recent days and a finish above here today could position global stock markets for more growth next week,” Mr. Jones said.

Earlier, Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average advanced 86.31 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at a seven-week high of 10,751.26.

The lackluster performance elsewhere was largely because of concerns that China may start raising interest rates and take other cooling measures to control mounting inflationary pressures. The source of concern was a government report showing inflation in the fast-growing economy jumped to 2.7 percent last month.

Chinese shares led the declines in Asia, with Shanghai’s index falling 1.2 percent. Investors there sold property shares on concerns that higher-than-expected inflation might lead the government to hike in interest rates.

“Overheated industries, such as the real estate sector and some heavy industries, will be cooled as the government adjusts its macroeconomic policies, so those shares dropped heavily today,” said Peng Yunliang, an analyst at Shanghai Securities in Shanghai.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.1 percent at 21,209.74 and South Korea’s benchmark gained 0.4 percent at 1,656.74.