Stocks close little changed, but post a gain for the week

Economic indicators are flashing 'bright green': CFRA's Stovall
Economic indicators are flashing 'bright green': CFRA's Stovall

Stocks were little changed on Friday, but notched a gain for the week, as Wall Street digested the latest batch of consumer data and earnings.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 25.23 points, or about 0.1%, to close at 29,398.08. Earlier in the day, the Dow fell more than 100 points. The S&P 500 gained just 0.2% to close at 3,380.16, but eked out a record closing high. The Nasdaq Composite also advanced 0.2% to 9,731.18 and hit an all-time closing high. 

The major averages hit their session lows around midday. They later recovered after CNBC's Kayla Tausche reported the White House is considering tax incentives for people in the U.S. to buy stocks.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on January 10, 2020 in New York City.
Kena Betancur | Getty Images

Despite Friday's muted trading moves, stocks posted back-to-back weekly gains. The S&P 500 and Dow rose 1.6% and 1%, respectively, this week. The Nasdaq gained 2.2%. Those advances come even as investors grapple with a rising number of reported coronavirus cases.

China's National Health Commission on Friday reported an additional 121 coronavirus deaths nationwide, with 5,090 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The flu-like virus was found to have killed at least 1,380 people in mainland China after the health commission said it had removed 108 deaths from the total figure due to a double-count in Hubei province — the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak.

It is the second day in a row that the province's data changes have caused significant changes to a nationwide figure, fueling doubts many have about their accuracy.

"Given the uncertainty about how long the COVID-19 crisis will play out, investors are tending to stick with prior winners and those that are less exposed to Asian economies," strategists at MRB Partners said in a note. "This is why select growth stocks, especially in the U.S., have been bid up so aggressively in absolute and, especially, relative terms."

This week, Amazon, Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet all climbed more than 2%. Apple, meanwhile, ended the week 1.5% higher. 

Weak economic data offsets strong earnings

Core retail sales, which exclude autos, gas, building materials and food services, were unchanged last month, the Commerce Department said Friday. The department added clothing-store sales had their biggest one-month decline since 2009.

"The consumer is beginning to spend less," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities. "If you look at consumer debt, it's been going up and a lot of people have maxed out their credit cards. That would hold back strong spending in spite of the fact that you have cheap gasoline prices."

The data outweighed the release of strong corporate earnings releases from companies such as Nvidia and Expedia.

Nvidia shares rose 7% after its quarterly results beat analyst expectations. Expedia got an 11% boost from its earnings while Newell Brands climbed 3%.

More than 77% of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings thus far, with roughly 72% of them beating analyst expectations, FactSet data shows.

"We're looking now at a very modest positive quarter for the fourth quarter," said Jon Adams, investment strategist at BMO Global Asset Management. "If we do see earnings growth pick up here, which we think it will throughout 2020, that will bode well for U.S. equities."

—CNBC's Sam Meredith contributed to this report.