Consumer Sentiment Rises but Walmart Gets Off to a Slow Start in February

4798 Stocks were mixed on Friday, lifted by a strong report on consumer sentiment but pulled down in late trading by what was said to be an internal report of weak Walmart sales at the start of February.
The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index fell in late trading, with Wal-Mart Stores leading the way down after the report on February sales, but the index remained higher for the week and extended its streak of weekly gains to seven. The last such run was from December 2010 to January 2011.

Equities were little changed for much of the session, with investors finding few reasons to make big bets after an extended rally on Wall Street.

Interest rates were steady. The Treasury's benchmark 10-year note fell 2/32, to 99 31/32, and the yield rose to 2.01 percent from 2 percent late Thursday.

Wal-Mart Stores dropped 2.2 percent to $69.30 after Bloomberg News reported a weak start to February sales, citing internal company e-mails. The stock was the biggest decliner on the Dow Jones industrial average. The S.& P. retail index fell 0.5 percent.

"When a retailer of this size comes out with this kind of lousy news, the whole market can fall off, especially on a Friday afternoon," said Mike Shea, of Direct Access Partners in New York. "However, I'm not worried that this is indicative of any larger macro issue with retail."

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 8.37 points, or 0.06 percent, at 13,981.76. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index was down 1.59 points, or 0.1 percent, at 1,519.79. The Nasdaq composite index was down 6.63 points, or 0.21 percent, at 3,192.03.

For the week, the Dow and Nasdaq fell 0.1 percent each, while the S.& P. rose 0.1 percent.

"There's no news that suggests the strong underpinning for stocks isn't appropriate," said Mark D. Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. "We may have gotten ahead of ourselves, but there's also an absence of bad news."

Many investors are looking ahead to a debate in Washington over the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts put in place as part of a larger Congressional budget fight. The cuts are set to kick in on March 1 unless lawmakers agree to an alternative.

"This had been far enough out to not yet become an impediment for stocks, but it will start to move into the forefront," Mr. Luschini said.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said manufacturing in New York State expanded for the first time in seven months. A preliminary Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan reading of consumer sentiment rose, beating expectations. But manufacturing fell in January.

Wall Street's gains thus far in 2013 have been driven largely by strong corporate earnings. A surge in merger and acquisition activity, with more than $158 billion in deals announced so far in 2013, has given further support to the equity market as it points to healthy valuations and bets on the economic outlook.

Herbalife shares cut earlier gains to rise 1.2 percent on Friday, to $38.74. Late on Thursday, the billionaire investor Carl C. Icahn disclosed that he owned 13 percent of Herbalife and was ready to put it in play.

MeadWestvaco, a packaging company, climbed 12.5 percent to $35.65, making it the biggest percentage gainer on the S.& P. index, after the activist investor Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management said it had bought about 1.6 million shares of the company.

Source: Reuters
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