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Stocks rise slightly with Fed, retail in focus

NEW YORK >> The stock market edged higher Friday after two days of big declines.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged up less than a point, or 0.04 percent, to 1,662. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 22 points, or 0.2 percent, to 15,134. The Nasdaq composite index gained 12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,618.

Concerns about retail stores and a pullback in the Federal Reserve’s stimulus program have roiled markets this week.

Investors have focused on retail stores like Nordstrom Inc., which cut its full-year sales outlook late Thursday. The bleaker outlook from the high-end store follows grim forecasts from Wal-Mart Stores and Macy’s Inc.. Nordstrom shares fell $1.80, or 3 percent, to $57.53 early Friday.

The retail sector is a closely-watched part of the U.S. economy as consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of economic activity.

Investors have also been concerned about what will happen to the stock market — and the U.S. economy — once the Federal Reserve begins winding down its massive bond-buying program as early as next month. Some investors think that the Fed’s program has been a large contributor to the stock market’s record run.

“The big question is will the Fed eliminate the bond-buying program in September and, if so, how they will they remove the bond buying,” said Frank Davis, director of sales and trading for LEK Securities.

Investors moved into the traditional “flight to safety” assets such as gold, which was up $3.80, or 0.3 percent to $1,364 an ounce on Friday.

The Dow has dropped nearly 300 points, or roughly 2 percent, this week alone. The S&P 500, which is a broader gauge of the market, is down almost 30 points, or 1.8 percent. for the week. The market is on pace for its third-worst week this year.

Also in focus for Friday were the homebuilders, following a Commerce Department report that new home construction was up 6 percent in July to a seasonally-adjusted rate of 896,000. That figure was below economists’ consensus forecast of 903,000, however.

Housing has been one of the bright spots of the U.S. economy for the last several months. In June, home builders sought the most building permits for single-family homes in five years. New-home sales jumped in June to their highest level in five years as well.

Shares of PulteGroup Inc., Lennar Corp. and D.R. Horton Inc. were all up more than 2.5 percent in early trading – making homebuilders the best performing sector in the S&P.

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