Stocks regained lost ground heading into the final hour of trade, with lower oil boosting financials and a host of other beaten-down sectors as Wall Street bid to finish a seesaw week slightly higher.
The Dow and S&P 500 were each up nearly 1 percent, while the Nasdaq gained about 1.4 percent. For the week, the indexes each edged barely higher, up less than 1 percent.
Community banks were weighing on a rally spurred by tame core inflation, lower oil prices and a big week for the dollar.
Lehman Brothers, after a difficult week in which it replaced two of its top officers, was a huge gainer among big financials, including Morgan Stanley .
The market mostly shrugged off a dismal confidence reading and a CPI report that showed inflation outside of food and energy is fairly tame.
But some weakness persisted in regional banks amid chatter about dividend cuts.
KeyCorp fell more than 2 percent, piling on to its 24-percent decline from Thursday, after the Midwest bank said it raised $1.65 billion in a stock offering to raise caital, 10 percent more than it had expected. The news comes a day after the bank cut its dividend in half and announced a big charge after losing a tax case.
Fifth Third was the biggest bank loser, off a whopping 13 percent after an analyst downgraded the stock, saying it may be the next bank to slash its dividend and raise capital.
Economic reports showed that consumer sentiment fell to a 28-year low and consumer prices rose 0.6 percent last month, one-tenth of a percent higher than expected. That was largely due to a 4.4 percent jump in energy prices. Core CPI, which excludes food and energy, ticked up 0.2 percent. CPI rose 4.2 percent from a year earlier; core prices were up 2.3 percent year over year.
Oil was off more than $2, trading around $133-$134 a barrel, but was well off its morning lows amid continued unrest in Nigeria and the threat of a strike.
The dollar got a boost from the inflation report and is on track for its best week in over three years ahead of this weekend's meeting of G-8 finance ministers.
As for the housing market, foreclosure filings jumped 48 percent in May from a year earlier, according to data firm RealtyTrac. Yet home builders were mostly higher, led by Toll Brothers .
Lots of merger news buzzed around the market this week.
The latest is that Pfizer may bid for Ranbaxy Laboratories, an Indian generic-drug maker, countering a $4.6-billion bid from Japan's Daiichi Sankyo, the Business Standard newspaper reported. Pfizer shares ticked higher.
This Bud may be for you, but it's not yet clear who you is.
News broke late Thursday that Anheuser-Busch is in preliminary talks with Mexico's Grupo Modelo about a potential deal that could thwart Belgian InBev's unsolicited takeover bid for the brewer.
Finally, a concrete development on the Yahoo front -- Google announced late Thursday a non-exclusive advertising-services agreement with Yahoo. (Hey, at least it was something.) That news came just hours after Microsoft walked away from talks, abandoning its bid for Yahoo. An important antitrust voice in Washington said he would "closely examine" the Google deal.
For those of you keeping score at home, that was four merger stories kicking around this week. Staples on Tuesday confirmed its plans to buy Dutch office-supply rival Corporate Expressfor $2.6 billion.
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