Stocks pared gains in the final hour of trading another session of quiet trading despite unrest in the Middle East and Libya, debt troubles in Europe, and mixed economic news in the U.S.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 35 points after rising 84 points on Thursday. At current levels, the Dow is just below the level where it would be in positive territory for the month.
Among Dow components, IBM and Chevron gained, while Hewlett-Packard slumped.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also gained. All three major stock indexes looked set to end the week in positive territory after two straight weeks of declines.
The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, fell to nearly 17.
Among key S&P sectors, materials, energy and telecom advanced.
The market keeps moving slowly higher in the face of global geopolitical and economic worries, and mixed economic news in the U.S. , including a drop in The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment indexand Thursday's weak durable goods orders.
"As an investor, you kind of don’t have to do anything at this point, you’re still riding this wave up," said Jonathan Corpina, managing director, Meridian Equity Partners.
But volume has been extremely light, Corpina noted, which leads to higher volatility. In the final hour of trading, only 594 million shares had changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange floor.
Next week could be a different story as investors receive key economic news, ranging from auto sales to the March jobs picture ahead of the quarter end on March 31, a time when portfolio managers typically engage in "window dressing" their portfolios to improve quarterly returns. Add to this mix unexpected headlines out of Europe, Japan or the Middle East, and traders could be busy.
"If it’s resilient as everyone thinks it is, we’ll get the reaction that they’ve been right, that this market is resilient," says Corpina, who expects the market will continue to shake off any bad news and keep moving higher.
Oil prices traded flat despite planned protests in Bahrain and news thatSyrian troops fired on protesters, and as a military campaign continued against Libya.U.S. light sweet crude, fell to below $106 a barrel, while London Brent crude rose above $115 a barrel.
The higher prices could weigh on stocks amid fears they will dent the economic recovery, although rising prices haven't been a big factor in the markets in recent days.