On Friday, markets returned to their winning ways after three consecutive days of losses. Moderately positive domestic economic data and a small decline in crude prices brought cheer to investors after a week of falling indices. This was the worst performing week for the year, marked by unrest in the Middle East and surging crude prices which negatively impacted the markets. For the week, the Dow shed 2.1%, the S&P 500 fell 1.7% and Nasdaq was down 1.9%. This was also the worst weekly performance by stocks since November last year.
The fear gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) slipped 9.9% to 19.22 suggesting the improved sentiment on Friday and the consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange was 3.8 billion shares. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) moved up 0.51% to close at 12,130.45, the Standard & Poor 500 (S&P 500) inched 1.06% to end at 1,319.88 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq was up by 1.58% to finish the day at 2,781.05.
Markets owed much of their gains to a fall in crude prices, which had surged to their highest level in 2.5 years during the week. Prices slipped to around $98 per barrel on Friday, overcoming mid-week highs of $100 a barrel. Unrest in Libya continued but reports that Saudi Arabia initiated measures to overcome any shortfall in crude supply helped ease pressure from rising crude prices. On Friday, the International Energy Agency announced it would release excess oil inventory if required. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama brought relief to the nation by stating that the US would bear up to any shortage in oil supplies.
The crisis in Libya is of greater importance as it is one of the largest suppliers of oil and accounts for 2% of the global daily output. Reports suggested that anti-government demonstrators have taken over most parts of Libya. This could mean that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi might prolong his retaliation, thereby adding to the violence. However, concerns are no more confined to Libya, and fears abound that the uprising might spread to other oil producing countries in the Middle East. Protests in Bahrain have added fuel to such fears and reports suggest that Saudi Arabia’s royal family may also be in the queue to face opposition. Experts opine that if the unrest spreads to nations in the Persian Gulf, oil prices might shoot up to $200 per barrel and pose a greater threat to the global economy.
On the domestic front, economic data released by the Commerce Department showed that the real gross domestic product had increased at an annual rate of 2.8% in the fourth quarter, significantly lesser than Commerce Department’s expectations of 3.2%. However, the figure was up from 2.6% in the third quarter of 2010, suggesting a trend of a slow recovery. Investors, however, reacted positively to the data and were also boosted by a better-than-expected consumer sentiment index report. The Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index recorded its highest level in three years and surged to 77.5, ahead of economists’ expectations of 75.1.
On a segment-wise basis, tech stocks were major catalysts for the upward movement. OmniVision Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ:OVTI) soared 32%, a day after a strong quarterly report that beat estimates comprehensively. Autodesk, Inc. (NASDAQ:ADSK) was up 6% following its quarterly results while reports of a 29% rise in fourth-quarter sales of Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) took the stock higher by 3.4%. Stocks of Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ:MU), Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (NYSE:AMD), were also among the winners.
Some energy stocks returned to their winning ways with Transocean Ltd. (NYSE:RIG) rising 2.7%, Halliburton Company (NYSE:HAL), increasing 3.3%, and Schlumberger Limited (NYSE:SLB) rising 3.6%. Other major gainers for the day include CBOE Holdings, Inc. and CBS Corporation (NYSE:CBS), both gaining 6.9%. Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. (NYSE:IPG) was up 8.2% and SandRidge Energy, Inc. (NYSE:SD) gained 14.7%. Some of the major decliners for the day include First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR), MedAssets, Inc. (NASDAQ:MDAS), NutriSystem Inc. (NASDAQ:NTRI), which lost 5.4%, 34.1% and 31.2%, respectively.