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Stocks close mixed; Bernanke says economy should continue to improve

U.S. stocks on Friday staged a mixed finish after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. economy should continue to improve and reiterated the Fed's commitment to keeping interest rates low.

The holiday-shortened week that saw a close to a record year for 2013 also had Wall Street start the new year in negative territory for the first time since 2008,

"There 's a little concern about this attitude that everything is going to perfectly, and we know it never does," said Ron Florance, deputy chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank..

"A big issue as we go into earnings season later this month is will the GDP pickup of the fourth quarter carry over into earnings," Florance added.

"I still think this is a 'buy-on-the dip' equity market," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at US Bank Wealth Management. "2014 is likely to be a transition year, driven more by earnings growth than Fed-driven liquidity and PE expansion," he added.

Ford Motor, General Motors, Toyota Motor and Chrysler Group reported December U.S. sales below Wall Street's estimates.

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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 28.64 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,469.99, finishing with a weekly drop of less than 0.1 percent.

The S&P 500 was little changed, falling just over half a point to 1,831.37, down 0.5 percent from the prior Friday's close.

Apple fell more than 2 percent.

The Nasda lost 11.16 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,131.91, recording a weekly loss of 0.6 percent.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), a gauge of investor uncertainty, fell to trade below 14.

The decision to cut to $75 billion the Fed's monthly bond buys did not signal any reduction in the central bank's commitment to "maintain a highly accommodative monetary policy for as long as needed," Bernanke told a gathering in Philadelphia. His eight-year tenure at the Fed ends at the end of January.

Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker told a gathering in Baltimore that the Fed would continue to mull reduced stimulus as the labor market improves.

Separately, Fed Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said the central bank faces "immense" challenges as it starts to curb its monthly bond purchases.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude-oil futures for February delivery fell $1.48 to $93.96 a barrel and gold futures for February advanced 1.1 percent to $1,238.60 an ounce.

The dollar gained against an index of other currencies, while the yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 2.99 percent.

Sprint declined after Stifel Nicolaus cut shares of the wireless carrier to sell from hold. FireEye surged after buying Mandiant in a $1.05 billion deal that merges the providers of protection services against hackers.

On Thursday, stocks fell sharply as U.S. data had applications for jobless benefits fall to a monthly low and factory activity rising in December.

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