Stocks Slip After Weaker Growth, End Best Month Since 2011

NEW YORK (AP) -

February proved to be a strong month for U.S. stocks, even though it ended in downbeat fashion.

Major stock indexes closed lower on Friday, capping a week of subdued trading that still delivered a couple of new highs for the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index. It also brought the Nasdaq composite within striking distance of its March 2000 high.

The Nasdaq notched the biggest monthly gain at 7.1 percent. But the S&P 500’s 5.5 percent performance marked its best monthly increase since October 2011, and a turnaround from its 3.1 percent slide in January. The Dow rose 5.6 percent for the month.

Trading was listless for much of Friday as investors balanced encouraging reports on housing and consumer confidence against data showing that the U.S. economy grew at a slower annual rate in the final months of 2014 than previously estimated. Oil rose, recouping some of its losses from a day earlier. Technology stocks were among the biggest decliners.

The Dow ended down 81.72 points, or 0.5 percent, to 18,132.70. That’s 0.5 percent below its most-recent high of 18,224.57 on Wednesday.

The S&P 500 slid 6.24 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,104.50. The index is down 0.5 from a high of 2,115.48 on Tuesday.

The Nasdaq fell 24.36 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,963.53. The index has been inching closer to crossing the 5,000-point mark, something it hasn’t done since March 2000 at the height of the dot-com era. It’s now within 86 points of that peak.

The three main U.S. stock indexes are all up for the year.

Investors should get a better sense of the economy and consumers’ willingness to spend next week, when automakers report their February sales figures and the government issues its monthly update on hiring.

All told, eight of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 ended lower, with technology stocks notching the biggest decline. The sector is up 4.2 percent this year. Consumer staples rose the most. Those stocks are up 2.9 percent this year.

Several energy companies were among the biggest decliners in the S&P 500.

Southwestern Energy fell $1.27, or 4.8 percent, to $25.08, while NRG Energy lost 79 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $23.98. Chesapeake Energy slid 52 cents, or 3 percent, to $16.68.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.59 to $49.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude rose $2.53 to $62.58 a barrel in London.

U.S. oil prices appeared to stabilize in February around the $50 a barrel mark. That’s made a key variable of business more predictable for investors, J.J. Kinahan, TD Ameritrade’s chief strategist, said.

“That’s really the kind of thing that gives stability to the stock market,” Kinahan said.

U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.99 percent from 2.03 percent late Thursday.

In metals trading, gold edged up $3 to $1,213.10 an ounce, silver fell seven cents to $16.51 an ounce and copper was flat at $2.72 a pound.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline rose 6 cents to $1.768 a gallon, heating oil jumped 16.3 cents to $2.30 a gallon and natural gas rose 3.7 cents to $2.734 per 1,000 cubic feet.