Stocks slip on lower oil prices, mixed earnings in quiet trading ahead of Memorial Day holiday

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The stock market capped a quiet week of trading on a down note.

Major indexes fell from the start on Friday as oil drillers and other energy-related companies followed oil prices lower. Stocks spent much of the rest of the day drifting between losses and gains as investors considered a mixed bag corporate earnings and a slight increase in inflation.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed down 4.76 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 2,126.06. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 53.72 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 18,232.02. The Nasdaq composite edged down 1.43 points to 5,089.36.

Trading was light ahead of the Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. Just 2.5 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, three-quarters of the normal level.

Nine of the 10 industry sectors of the S&P 500 were lower, led by a 0.8 per cent drop in telecommunications stocks.

Among stocks making big gains, Deere & Co. rose $3.89, or 4.3 per cent, to $93.35 after the equipment maker beat analysts’ estimates for its latest quarterly earnings. The company also raised its profit forecast for the year.

Campbell Soup rose 98 cents, or 2 per cent, to $47.91 after reporting better-than-expected results, too.

In economic news, the Labor Department reported that inflation rose 0.1 per cent in April, its third straight increase. The report also noted that core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, climbed 0.3 per cent, the biggest one-month increase in more than two years.

The numbers suggest that an improving economy could be setting the stage for the Federal Reserve to raise its benchmark short-term interest rate. The central market has held the rate near zero for more than six years.

“We don’t think inflation is really a problem, but the uptick is a cover for the Fed to do what it wants to do anyway: Get off zero rates,” said Jim McDonald, chief investment strategist at Northern Trust.

Later in the day, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said in a speech that she expected the Fed to begin raising rates later this year if the job market improves. But she cautioned that the economy is still facing challenges, including disappointing wage growth and too many people working part-time.

Despite the drop for the day, the S&P 500 still closed up for the week, its third weekly gain in a row. The index has closed at record highs recently, though the gains have been tiny as investors fret over unimpressive earnings and an uncertain global economy.

“It continues to be the rally that no one respects,” said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Despite headwinds, it continues to plug along.”

Among stocks making moves Friday, Gap Inc. fell 55 cents, or 1.4 per cent, to $38.01 on news late Thursday that first-quarter earnings plunged 8 per cent as it tries to turn around its Banana Republic and Gap chains. The company also cited a surge in the value of the dollar, which makes sales abroad worth less when translated back to the U.S. currency.

Overseas, the Shanghai Composite Index jumped 2.8 per cent to close at its highest level since 2008. Investors are betting that the economic stimulus that has powered the rally will continue after several poor indicators, including a disappointing manufacturing index on Thursday.

Markets in Europe were mixed. Germany’s DAX slipped 0.4 per cent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.3 per cent.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1 to close at $59.72 a barrel in New York as traders worried about supplies of oil outstripping demand. U.S. oil finished the week between $59 and $60 for the fourth straight week. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.17 to close at $65.37 a barrel in London.

The national average retail price of gasoline reached its high for the year of $2.74 a gallon just before the Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA, though it remains nearly $1 cheaper than last year at this time.

In other futures trading on the NYMEX:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.8 cents to close at $2.054 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 3.3 cents to close at $1.953 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 6.2 cents to close at $2.887 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The rise in consumer prices sent U.S. bond prices lower. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.21 per cent from 2.19 per cent late Thursday.

Precious and industrial metals futures closed little changed. Gold edged down 10 cents to $1,204 an ounce, silver rose two cents to $17.13 an ounce, and copper fell four cents to $2.81 a pound.