Stocks turned mixed, as technology and consumer stocks rose, after a grim preliminary reading on October consumer sentiment and as bank stocks continued to fall on the potential effects of the foreclosure crisis.
TheDow Jones Industrial Averagefell more than 55 points, after dropping as much as 83 points earlier, led by GE, Bank of America , and JPMorgan . Hewlett-Packard and Cisco rose.
The S&P 500 Index and the Nasdaq rose. TheCBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose to above 20. The VIX had traded below 20 all week, the lowest level for the key index since April.
Technology,consumer discretionary, and health care sectors rose, while banks and industrials fell.
Stocks, meanwhile, were moving in the opposite direction of the dollar, which rose against a basket of foreign currencies. The dollar's rise helped to push goldprices slightly lower.
Financial stocks conitnued to be hit by concern over the foreclosure crisis. On Friday, S&P Equity cut Bank of America to "hold" from "strong buy," saying the big bank is not as prepared for the fallout from the crisis as JPMorgan. S&P also cut its price target for BofA to $14 from $17; shares of the bank traded at a 52-week low.
All financial stocks were lower as the foreclosure crisis continued. The KBW Bank Index was down 1.5 percent.
In economic news, the University of Michigan's preliminary consumer sentiment indexfor October was 67.9 in October, less than the 68.5 reading estimated by economists at Briefing.com, and the weakest level since July. The reading was 68.2 in September.
"There would appear—all else being equal—to be a case for further action," Bernanke said in remarks at a conference sponsored by the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, Reuters reported.
Bernanke also said a prolonged period of high unemployment could pose a risk to the recovery's sustainability and said the low level of inflation meant the risk of a dangerous downward slide in prices was greater than desirable.
The consumer price index rose 0.1 in September, unchanged from August, while excluding volatile food and energy prices, the CPI was unchanged.
Retail sales topped expectations, rising 0.6 percent, on sales of big ticket item, like autos and appliances, from a revised 0.7 gain in August. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected an increase of 0.4 percent for September.
Meanwhile, a measure of manufacturing in New York state rose faster than expected.
Also putting presure on the market were results from CNBC parent and Dow component General Electric. GE posted third-quarter earnings from continuing operations of 29 cents a share, versus estimates of 27 cents a share. Revenue for the quarter came in at $35.89 billion, below consensus estimates of $37.6 billion.
On the positive side, Google and Advanced Micro Devices both posted strong results, lifting the tech sector overall. Google shares soared more than 10 percent, while AMD slipped.
Toymaker Mattel also beat expectations on the bottom linethough the company missed on the top line as its gross margins fell, causing its shares to drop sharply.
Shares of Gannett slipped after the media company said earnings per share excluding special items for the third quarter rose to 52 cents a share from 43 cents a year ago.
Whole Foods shares rose nearly 3 percent after Jefferies raised its rating to "buy" from "hold," citing accelerating sales coupled with cost controls. Safeway , Supervalu and Kroger also all rose.
Also in economic news, business investories rose 0.6 percent, slightly more than expected.
The U.S. Treasury will publish its September budget statement at 2 p.m.
European shares were mostly higher with technology names leading the gains. Asian stocks ended mixed, but mostly in the red. The Shanghai Composite Index managed to rise more than 3 percent.
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