Some robust blue-chip earnings and an improvement in consumer sentiment helped stocks shrug off a disappointing reading on economic growth to end mixed Friday -- but the market still enjoyed its biggest monthly gain in a year.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) slipped one point to finish at 10,466, while the broader S&P 500 ($INX) was essentially unchanged at 1,102. The more volatile, tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ($COMPX) gained three points, or 0.1%, to close at 2,255.
However, the Dow and S&P 500 each rose about 7% in July, their best monthly gains in a year. The Nasdaq also added 7% this month for its best showing since March.
As for Friday's session, the seesaw action was emblematic of the market's struggle to square strong corporate earnings with slower economic growth, says Kenny Polcari, managing director at ICAP, an interdealer broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
"The market is confused," Polcari says. "Corporate earnings and revenue have been strong, but the economic data points to slower growth. With unemployment stuck at high levels, it's hard to see where growth is going to come from."
The U.S. economy slowed in the second quarter to a 2.4% growth rate, the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday, while first-quarter GDP growth was revised up to 3.7% from 2.7%. Not only did second-quarter GDP fall short of economists' estimates, but the upward revision to first-quarter GDP suggests the pace of the economic slowdown accelerated in the first half of the year.
In other Friday data, consumer sentiment crept higher in June, but still remains at depressed levels. And the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index unexpectedly jumped to 62.3 in July from 59.1 last month. Economists were expecting the index, which measures regional manufacturing activity, to drop to 56.5 this month.
In corporate news, Dow components Chevron (CVX) and Merck (MRK) posted robust second-quarter results Friday, capping a hectic week of earnings data that has so far exceeded Wall Street's profit and sales expectations, despite some revenue weakness among consumer staples stocks.
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