Stocks Finish Up Over 7% for Month of July

Stocks ended relatively flat Friday after a disappointing GDP report but the Dow logged its best month in a year, rising more than 7 percent.

The GDP report weighed on the market but better-than-expected readings on consumer sentiment and manufacturing helped curb losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped just over a point to close at 10,465.94. The S&P 500and Nasdaqalso finished roughly flat for the week but all three finished up more than 6 percent for the month.

Consumer discretionary, materials and health care were the best performing sectors today. Utilities, techs and energy stocks were the laggards. For the month, materials were one of the best performers, while health-care stocks were among the weakest.

The CBOE volatility index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, ended below 24. The VIX dropped 32 percent in July, the biggest monthly percentage decline since 1994. At the same time, gold fell over 5 percentas investors have started to move away from such safe-haven plays.

DuPont , Caterpillar and American Express were the biggest gainers on the Dow in July, up between 12 and 17 percent. Bank of America and Johnson & Johnson were at the back of the pack.

Over on the S&P, Genzyme was the biggest gainer, up a whopping 37 percent following news that Sanofi-Aventis is considering making a bid for the company, followed by Anandarko, which gained 36 percent.

Genzyme also led over on the Nasdaq, while Nvidia and Symantec were among the worst performers after the chip makers slashed their forecasts and were downgraded by several brokerages.

Chevronbeat expectations for both earnings and revenue, helped by higher oil prices, but the stock rose only slightly on Friday.

The energy sector was mixed after a strong week of earning results from Chevron rivals, including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips.

BP shares finished flat after the company's Russian joint venture partner TNK-BP said it is considering buying BP's Venezuelan assets as way to expand its international businesses. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, BP CEO Tony Hayward said he did everything he could do to respond to the Gulf oil spill.

Halliburton shares fell after FBR Capital downgraded its rating on the stock to "market perform" from "outperform."

Merck fell almost 2 percent after the drug giant reported its profit fell 52 percent amid hefty merger and restructuring charges. Still, the results beat expectations and the firm also delivered a forecast in line with expectations.

Motorola fell more than 1 percent after reporting earnings and revenue Thursday that was better than expected amid greater demand for mobile-network equipment.

So far, nearly two-thirds of the S&P 500 has reported earnings, with 75 percent beating expectations.

JPMorgan Chase raised its 2010 earnings outlook on the S&P 500 to $84 a share from $81 a share, citing strong second-quarter results and a recovery in Europe.

A weak reading on economic growth rattled the market at the open: GDP rose 2.4 percent, according to the government's preliminary estimate, lower than the consensus estimate of 2.5 percent.

One positive sign in the GDP report was a 29.1 percent rise in spending on equipment and software, its strongest growth since the third quarter of 1997.

"What it means is that the recovery wasn’t going to be led by consumers, it was going to be led by inventory rebuild, so capital spending really takes off," Benjamin Pace of Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management told CNBC.

Since today's economy is dominated by technology companies, as those businesses start spending, "there will be employment growth in those areas and that should help keep the economy moving in 2011," Pace said.

In the day's other economic news, Reuters and the University of Michigan reported their gauge of consumer sentiment index for July came in better than expected at 67.8 but was still a steep drop from June and the lowest reading in 9 months. And a gauge of manufacturing activity in the Chicago area came in better than expected for July.

Consumer stocks Kellogg and Colgate-Palmolive reversed course, rising Friday after tumbling about 7 percent Thursday. Kellogg, which was up more than 4 percent Friday, had posted lower-than-expected quarterly profits, while Colgate-Palmolive warned that currency devaluation in Venezuela would hurt more than thought.

MetLife posted a profit Thursday, helped by higher premium revenue from sales domestically and abroad.

MetLife and seven other insurers are being subpoenaed by the New York attorney general as part of a probe into whether life insurers are defrauding families of deceased military personnel by siphoning off millions of dollars of death benefits for themselves.

Amgen reported a better-than-expected profiton Thursday and the world's largest biotechnology firm said the launch of its new osteoporosis drug Prolia was progressing as planned.

Sony fell more than 2 percent after surging almost 8 percent Thursday after the Japanese electronics maker reported a return to profitability thanks to sales of Bravia flat-screen TVs and PlayStation 3 consoles, and strength in emerging markets.

Disneyagreed to sell Miramaxfor more than $660 million to Filmyard Holdings.

Google said its earlier report that Internet-search services in China were being fully blocked could have been the result of a technical glitchthat overstated the problem.

Li Lu, a Chinese-American investor and hedge fund manager, could be in line to take a top investment role at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and even succeed the legendary U.S. investor, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Oil prices rose more than $3 in July to settle at $78.95 a barrel. It was the second consecutive monthly rise and the biggest monthly gain since March.

Next week, just a few earnings reports to note, including Time Warner , Pfizer and Toyota .

Investors will have their eyes on a series of economic reports, particularly July jobs report. Auto industry and chain stores will be also be released.

Also next week, Research in Motion and AT&T are holding a news conference where analysts expect RIM to reveal a smartphone to rival Apple's iPhone.

On Tap For Next Week:

MONDAY: ISM manufacturing index; construction spending
TUESDAY: July auto sales; personal income & spending; pending home sales; factory orders; Blackberry & AT&T news conf.; Earnings from Pfizer and MasterCard
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications; challenger job-cut report; ADP employment report; ISM services index; weekly oil inventories; AmEx analyst meeting; Earnings from Toyota, Time Warner and Allstate
THURSDAY: July chain-store sales; Fed hearing on new mortgage regulations; BoE announcement; ECB announcement; weekly jobless claims
FRIDAY: Fed hearing on new bank regulations; July jobs report; consumer credit

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