Wall Street was largely directionless on Friday with the benchmark averages hugging the flatline. Continued profit-taking pressure in the financial sector in the wake of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting this week was offset by gains in defensive sectors and industrial shares. Shallow gains late in the day attributed to a slight uptick in oil, and a favorable meeting between President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were compromised into the close as oil gave up its fragile gains.
The defensive action late in the week ate into Wednesday’s post-FOMC gains, leaving the Dow less than 0.01% higher on the week. The S&P 500 closed with a 0.2% gain, while the Nasdaq took the top spot with a 0.6% gain and in the green for a third consecutive week.
Although Friday’s economic data was largely academic in the wake of the FOMC meeting, stronger-than-expected consumer sentiment data briefly nudged stocks into the plus column. The University of Michigan preliminary index for March rose to 97.6 from 96.3 in February, beating expectations for an increase to 97.2.
Also, the measure of leading economic indicates rose to its highest level in 10 years with a better-than-expected 0.6% gain in February.
Manufacturing data was slightly disappointing as industrial production was unchanged in February, while capacity utilization contracted slightly to 75.4% from January’s revised 75.5%.
Next week, the Fed’s blackout period before an FOMC meeting ends giving members an opportunity to weigh in on the decision to raise rates and outlook for monetary policy in 2017. Also, sound bites from this weekend’s meeting of G-20 finance ministers in Germany will also provide some direction at the start of the week.