Stocks break 4-day losing streak amid Yellen comments

U.S. stocks closed mildly higher on Friday as investors digested Fed Chair Janet Yellen's remarks remained cautious ahead of first quarter earnings in April.

"She gave no hint when the first hike will come and reiterated that even when they come the pace will be gradual. it's the same old," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group. "Bonds are pretty much where they were before she spoke. It was where she was a week and a half ago"

Yellen said a rate increase may be warranted later this year, adding that an increase in core inflation is not essential before the Fed raises rates.

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Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, pointed out that net-net over the last two weeks stocks have moved little, as this week equities gave back almost as much as they gained in the days following the Fed announcement last week.

The S&P 500 gained about 2.6 percent the week of the Fed statement, and fell 2.2 percent this week.

Friday's % Change WTD % Change MTD % Change YTD % Change
S&P 500 0.24% -2.23% -2.07% 0.10%
Dow 0.19% -2.29% -2.32% -0.62%
NASDAQ 0.57% -2.69% -1.46% 3.28%
NASDAQ 100 0.41% -2.82% -2.43% 2.28%
Russell 2000 0.68% -2.05% 0.57% 2.96%
DJ Transports 0.26% -4.89% -3.59% -4.81%
S&P 400 0.44% -2.02% 0.13% 3.87%
DJ Utilities 0.64% -2.49% -2.30% -6.08%
CBOE VIX -4.24% 16.21% 13.42% -21.20%

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was scheduled to speak at 3:45 p.m. ET, shortly before the closing bell on Friday.

"She's showing that the Fed is not in any rush to raise rates in a fast clip," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "If you do it in increments... it's going to be meaningless for the market."

Stocks traded choppily for most of Friday's session.

Fear of negative earnings is "where the market is hesitant," Cardillo said. "I think that's probably going to lead us to the correction we've talked about in the past. Nobody wants to get caught on the wrong side of the fence."

Stocks did not post gains for a single day this week until Friday. The last time the S&P posted losses for every consecutive day from Monday to Friday was in May 2012.

"We still believe the market has not reset enough to reflect the coming slowdown," said Nick Raich, CEO of The Earnings Scout.

The U.S. dollar is up more than 13 percent in the last six months and has weighed on corporate earnings.

Relative continued strength in the currency and weak first quarter reports could result in further negative revisions for the following quarter, Boockvar said.

The Nasdaq held gains while the Dow and S&P 500 struggled to stay in positive territory on Friday.

"I think we'll close flat to slightly higher," said Marc Chaikin, CEO of Chaikin Analytics. "Closer to earnings season we'll see more clarity. ... What's been hurting the market is analysts have been lowering their estimates on the large-cap stocks in the S&P."

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Earlier, Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer spoke in Frankfurt about the decreased vulnerability of the nonbank financial sector to the shocks that led to the recession.

The iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF, which led the last few days' selloff, ended the day nearly 2 percent higher but down 5.2 percent on the week.

The Dow transports, which some analysts cited as another drag on the market, also edged higher to end up 0.26 percent but down about 4.9 percent for the week. Airlines led gains on weakness in oil prices.

IBB one-month performance

The third estimate for fourth-quarter U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) came in unchanged at 2.2 percent. While corporate profits fell, consumer spending was revised higher to 4.4 percent from 4.2 percent, the fastest rate since the first quarter of 2006.

"It was about what we were expecting," said Gus Faucher, senior macroeconomist at PNC Financial Services.

"Assuming the economy continues to expand at a growth close to 3 percent, (we could see) tightening in July or September," he said.

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Most analysts expected a rise to 2.4 percent from 2.2 percent. However, a few estimates held that weak U.S. economic data could result in a negative revision.

The University of Michigan's final consumer sentiment reading for March was 93.0, slightly above estimates but below February's 95.4.

Crude oil settled down 5 percent at $48.87 a barrel on easing fears of disruption from conflict in Yemen and the likelihood of a deal in Iran that could increase supply.

Crude is up about 7 percent for the week. Phil Flynn, energy market analyst at the Price Futures Group, said prices encouragingly gained despite Wednesday's report of a large inventory buildup.

"Seasonally you usually bottom at this time of the year (and) inventories are typically higher," he said.

The U.S. dollar traded slightly lower as the euro gained to trade near $1.09. The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield traded slightly lower at 1.96 percent.

In corporate news, Intel closed up more than 6 percent after Dow Jones reported the firm is in talks to buy Altera. The specialized chip-maker had a market value of $10.4 billion as of mid-Friday and its shares leaped 28 percent on the news.

BlackBerry closed up nearly 2 percent after posting earnings of four cents a share, beating expectations for a four cent loss. However, revenue was far below Street forecasts as sales from services exceeded those from hardware.

Cruise ship operator Carnival surged more than 6 percent after reporting earnings that showed a net profit of $49 million or 6 cents a share.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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Dow Chemical will spin off part of its chlorine derivatives business and merge it with Olin Corporation, creating a company with annual revenue of about $7 billion. It will get about $2 billion in cash and about $2.2 billion in Olin stock as part of the deal.

American Apparel's ex-CEO Dov Charney is seeking $40 million in damages for alleged breach of his employment contract. Charney was removed from his job in December following a six-month suspension amid allegations of misusing funds.

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook plans to donate his estimated $785 million fortune to charity, according to a Fortune article.

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Amazon.com is in talks to buy online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter, according to Forbes, in what might be the largest-ever acquisition for Amazon

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 34.43 points, or 0.19 percent, at 17,712.66, with Intel and UnitedHealth leading gains and Chevron the greatest laggard. The blue chip index fell 2.29 percent this week, for its worst week since Jan 30.

The S&P 500 closed up 4.87 points, or 0.24 percent, at 2,061.02, with health care leading six sectors higher and energy the greatest laggard. The index closed down 2.23 percent for the week, its worst since the week ending January 30.

The Nasdaq closed up 27.86 points, or 0.57 percent, to 4,891.22. The index closed down 2.69 percent for the week, its worst since the week ending October 10.

Advancers were a step ahead of decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 386 million and a composite volume of about 1.9 billion at 2:38 p.m.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market , traded near 15.

Gold futures settled down $5.00 to $1,199.80 an ounce.

CNBC's Patti Domm and Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.

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