by Investing.com Staff, Investing.com
At the close of U.S. trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished largely flat, the S&P 500 index fell 0.28%, while the Nasdaq Composite index fell 0.16%.
Earlier Friday, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment index dropped to a 9-month low in April, falling to 72.3 from 78.6 in the previous month.
Analysts were expecting the index to tick down to 78.5 this month.
Elsewhere, official data revealed that retail sales in the U.S. fell 0.4% in March, defying expectations for a 0.1% rise after a 1% increase the previous month.
Core retail sales, which are stripped of volatile automobile sales, also dipped 0.4% last month after a 1% increase in February, missing similar expectations for a 0.1% rise.
Consumer spending drives about 70% of the U.S. economy, and the softer-than-expected data sent stocks falling.
The Labor Department, meanwhile, reported that the U.S. producer price index fell 0.6% in March, more than an expected 0.2% decline and way off a 0.7% gain the previous month.
The country’s core producer price index rose 0.2% last month, in line with expectations, following a 0.2% increase in February.
Hopes for a gradual improvement in economic indicators and upcoming quarterly earnings allowed stocks to trim earlier losses, especially as the day’s trading came to a close.
Leading Dow Jones Industrial Average performers included Home Depot, up 2.43%, McDonald’s, up 1.57%, and Wal-Mart Stores, up 0.98%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average’s worst performers included Alcoa, down 1.20%, DuPont, down 0.93%, and Bank of America, down 0.90%.
European indices, meanwhile, finished lower.
After the close of European trade, the EURO STOXX 50 fell 1.53%, France’s CAC 40 fell 1.23%, while Germany’s DAX 30 finished down 1.61%. Meanwhile, in the U.K. the FTSE 100 fell 0.49%.
The U.S. dollar crept up against most major currencies on Friday after U.S. retail sales numbers and a consumer sentiment index missed expectations and sent investors selling stocks and seeking safety in the greenback.
In U.S. trading on Friday, EUR/USD was down 0.13% at 1.3084.
The news sparked safe-haven demand for the dollar, though the euro and other higher-yielding currencies saw some support after eurozone finance ministers agreed to support a EUR10 billion bailout for Cyprus.
News that Nicosia may ask its neighbors for more help financing the EUR23 billion final tab for bailing out the island nation curbed appetite for risk, though the dollar didn’t soar amid sentiments the Federal Reserve will keep stimulus programs in place in light of Friday’s tepid consumer data.
The greenback, meanwhile, was up against the pound, with GBP/USD trading down 0.27% at 1.5345.
The dollar index, which tracks the performance of the greenback versus a basket of six other major currencies, was up 0.03% at 82.39.
The yen, meanwhile, firmed against the dollar on Friday after investors concluded the currency was oversold in wake of a massive Bank of Japan monetary easing launch.
In U.S. trading on Friday, USD/JPY was trading at 98.84, down 0.82%, up from a session low of 98.67 and off a high of 99.81.
The pair was likely to find resistance at 99.81, the earlier high, and support at 98.67, the earlier low.
The Fed is currently purchasing USD85 billion in mortgage debt and Treasury holdings held by banks a month, a monetary stimulus tool known as quantitative easing that pushes down interest rates and pumps the economy full of liquidity to encourage investing and hiring, which weakens the dollar as a side effect.
While the Fed will likely wind down such programs eventually, that day may come later rather than sooner, market participants concluded after digesting U.S. data.
Gold prices plunged on Friday after reports revealed that U.S. retail sales and consumer sentiment came in much weaker than expected, which sent investors selling equities and chasing the safety of the U.S. dollar.
Gold and the dollar tend to trade inversely from one another.
On the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures for June delivery were down 4.08% at USD1,501.05 a troy ounce in U.S. trading on Friday, up from a session low of USD1,491.95 and down from a high of USD1,564.15 a troy ounce.
Gold futures were likely to test support USD1,478.55 a troy ounce, July 1, 2011, and resistance at USD1,590.05, Tuesday’s high.
Economic data sent investors ditching equities and snapping up positions in the safe and liquid greenback, which eased off earlier highs.
Gold, however, continued its downward plunge, dropping 20 percent from a 2011 high, as investors sold the commodity on sentiment that after 12 years of steady gains, the yellow metal may be headed for a period of longer-term declines.
Elsewhere on the Comex, silver for May delivery was down 5.14% at USD26.273 a troy ounce, while copper for May delivery was down 2.39% and trading at USD3.351 a pound.
Oil prices plunged on Friday, extending Thursday’s losses after weak U.S. confidence and retail data stoked fears that global supply far exceeds apparently sluggish demand.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light sweet crude futures for delivery in May traded down 2.65% at USD91.03 a barrel on Friday, off from a session high of USD93.52 and up from an earlier session low of USD90.30.
Weak data in the country with the world’s largest output fueled fears that the global economy still faces headwinds as it limps along the road to recovery and may demand less fuels and energy than once thought, while supplies remain ample.
Earlier this week, the International Energy Agency reduced its estimate for global oil demand by 45,000 barrels a day in 2013 to 795,000 barrels a day, the latest string of data to push down oil prices.
Also, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut its forecast for global oil demand growth by 40,000 barrels a day to 800,000 barrels in 2013, the second downward revision in two months.
Meanwhile back in the U.S., the Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report on Wednesday that U.S. crude oil inventories rose by 250,000 barrels in the week ended April 5, well below expectations for an increase of 1.4 million barrels, though market participants still viewed the country as awash in oil.
Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 388.9 million barrels as of last week, the highest level since 1990.
Elsewhere on the ICE Futures Exchange, Brent oil futures for May delivery were down 1.93% at USD102.25 a barrel, up USD11.22 from its U.S. counterpart.
Natural gas futures extended Thursday’s gains into Friday, hovering near 20-month highs after official U.S. data revealed that supplies fell more than expected last week.
Weather forecasts calling for below-normal temperatures for portions of the central U.S. also boosted prices.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, natural gas futures for delivery in May traded at USD4.239 per million British thermal units, up 2.40%.
The commodity hit a session low of USD4.152 and a high of USD4.245.
Below-normal temperatures that have gripped much of the eastern U.S. in late winter and early spring have many investors betting that demand may be outstripping supply.
Updated weather forecasts continued to point to below-normal temperatures gripping portions of the central U.S. in the coming days, which would hike up demand for heating in households and offices.
Supply data released Thursday confirmed many suspicions that the cold snap has sent demand pressuring supplies.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that natural gas storage in the U.S. in the week ended April 5 fell by 14 billion cubic feet, compared to expectations for a drop of 13 billion cubic feet.
Inventories increased by 11 billion cubic feet in the same week a year earlier, while the five-year average change for the week is a build of 15 billion cubic feet.
Total U.S. natural gas storage stood at 1.673 trillion cubic feet as of last week. Stocks were 804 billion cubic feet less than last year at this time and 66 billion cubic feet below the five-year average of 1.739 trillion cubic feet for this time of year.
The report showed that in the East Region, stocks were 92 billion cubic feet below the five-year average, following net withdrawals of 16 billion cubic feet.
Stocks in the Producing Region were 46 billion cubic feet below the five-year average of 736 billion cubic feet after a net withdrawal of 5 billion cubic feet.