Stocks Edge Higher Ahead of Close

Stocks edged higher before the close Friday, putting the market on pace to continue a September rally despite trading with uncertainty most of the week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 5 points after moving more than 50 points earlier in the day.

DuPont, Caterpillar and United Technologies rose, while JPMorgan and Hewlett-Packard fell.

The S&P 500 was up modestly after briefly touching an intraday high of 1,137.47. The S&P 500 has been bound in a range capped at 1,130, and some analysts believe the market could move higher once it breaks through that crucial barrier. The tech-heavy Nasdaqrose.

Industrials, technology, and consumer discretionary sectors were higher, while energy and utilities stocks fell.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, rose above 21.

Volatility has been at its lowest level in four months and that means investors aren't fearful of the market's direction, said Nate Peterson, senior derivatives analyst at Charles Schwab.

But given the low levels of the VIX, the uncertain economic outlook, and in advance of earnings pre-announcement season, active investors should consider purchasing protection for their investments, Peterson said in a research note.

"It just seems the markets are at a pause this week," said Dan Cook, senior market analyst at IG Markets.

Volume remained relatively light all week, despite the first full week of trading for September. While the major indexes continued to bounce in and out of positive territory Friday, as they had much of the week, Cook said, "I take it as positive that we’ve held where we’ve had, in the face of mixed data."

Among technology stocks, shares of Oracle soared more than 7 percent after the business software giant reported a profit that jumped 38 percentand easily outpaced analysts' estimates. In addition, at least eight brokerages raised their price targets on Oracle.

Research In Motion rose more than 2 percent after the BlackBerry maker posted results that exceeded analysts' expectationsand raised its outlook for the current quarter.

Texas Instruments also rose after the semiconductor firm announced a plan to buy back another $7.5 billion of common stock, and said it would raise its quarterly dividend to 13 cents a share.

However, an overall boost in the tech sector didn't include all stocks. Microsoft fell after FBR Capital Markets lowered its profit estimates for the company, citing softer demand for PCs, and rival Intel also slipped.

Sandisk , meanwhile, fell nearly 4 percent after Auriga confirmed its sell rating and $31 price target for the maker of flash drives.

Financials slid after U.S. regulators voted unanimously to propose that companies disclose more about their debtafter it was revealed some banks were "window dressing" loans as sales, masking the risk levels involved.

Shares of JPMorgan and Barclays shed more than 2 percent each. Bank of America and Morgan Stanley also slipped.

Restaurant stocks were hit after Jefferies began coverage of the sector with a "cautious view" of near-term fundamentals. McDonald's and Yum Brands slipped after the fast-food chains were both started with "hold" ratings. Brinker plunged more than 6 percent after the parent company of Chilli's was cut to "neutral" from "buy" by Bank of America.

Dow component Caterpillar gained after the construction machinery maker said its retail sales continued to rise in the three months ended August 31. Shares of rival Deere also rose significantly.

Elsewhere, Johnson & Johnson edged higher after the health care giant said it is in talks to pay $2.3 billionto buy shares in Dutch biotech Crucell it does not already own to strengthen its vaccine business.

Student Loan surged more than 40 percent after the firm agreed to sell its assets to Citigroup , Discover Financial and SLM .

Meanwhile, BP fell after the oil giant reached a milestone in the process of capping its Gulf of Mexico ruptured oil well for good, as a relief well made contact with it. Oil, meanwhile, is trading below $74 a barrel.

Shares of Massey Energy plummeted after Macquarie downgraded the coal producer to "neutral," and lowered its price target to $38 a share from $65, citing production shortfalls and rising costs.

Elsewhere in the energy sector, Enbridgerestarted a major oil pipelinefrom Canada to the Midwest that had been shut for more than a week.

In the day's economic news, consumer sentiment in September fell to a surprisingly low level of 66.6, down from 68.9 in August, according to Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's survey.

And the CPI for August rose 0.3 percent, the same increase as July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Core CPI, which excludes food and energy costs, rose 0.1, in line with expectations.

While stocks have continued to move higher this month, investors are still pouring money into safe-haven assets like gold. Gold prices retreated near $1,275 an ounce.

On Tap for Next Week:

MONDAY: NAHB housing market index; Nike shareholder meeting; Oracle Open World; Earnings from Lennar and Discover Financial
TUESDAY: Housing starts; FOMC Announcement; Clinton Global Initiative; MasterCard annual meeting; Earnings from AutoZone and Adobe
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications; oil inventories; Wall Street & Washington Conference; Earnings from General Mills and Bed Bath & Beyond
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims; existing home sales; leading indicators; Chicago Fed Pres Evans speaks; Volcker speaks; FCC meeting on opening up new airwaves; Earnings from Rite Aid and Nike
FRIDAY: Durable goods orders; New home sales; Richmond Fed Pres Lacker speaks; Philadelphia Fed Pres Plosser speaks; NY Film Festival; Earnings from KB Home

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