Stocks rose as investors capped a capricious week by engaging in a bit of Black Friday bargain hunting while awaiting word of how retailers might fare during what is expected to be a tough holiday shopping season.
Friday's holiday-shortened session ended three hours early and followed fractious trading that on Wednesday saw the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index give up more than 1.5 percent. The S&P's climb on Friday put the index back into positive territory for the year.
The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, which marks the kickoff of the holidays shopping season, is so named because it historically was when stores turned a profit.
The day's gains weren't enough to reverse losses for the week, however, and observers cautioned the session could prove more an aberration than a reversal of recent trends. With many of Wall Street's principal players on vacation, volume was light as is typical on such days.
"While I'd love to celebrate this rally, it is on very thin volume and we have to really wait until next week to get a sense of the true direction of this market," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago.
Still, he said it's a good sign that stocks didn't extend Wednesday's slide.
"It looks like a little rebound rally," Ablin said. "Maybe the day off for Thanksgiving enabled investors to reflect that maybe the bottom isn't falling out of the economy."
The Dow rose 181.84, or 1.42 percent, to 12,980.88, finishing at the highs of the session rather than losing steam in the final minutes as has occurred often in recent weeks.
Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 23.93, or 1.69 percent, to 1,440.70, and the NASDAQ composite index rose 34.45, or 1.34 percent, to 2,596.60.
For the week, the Dow lost 1.49 percent, the S&P slid 1.24 percent and the NASDAQ gave up 1.54 percent.
Government bonds showed little movement. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, stood at 4.01 percent, flat with late Wednesday.
The dollar was lower against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.
With no major economic data arriving and not much in the way of corporate news, some investors appeared to make some pro forma trades and search for any insights into the health of the economy, particularly with the arrival of Black Friday.
Oil prices, which flirted with US$100 per barrel earlier in the week, gained as heating oil rose amid concerns about tightening supplies. Light, sweet crude for January delivery advanced US$0.89 to settle at US$98.18 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Friday's advance came after the S&P 500 on Wednesday slipped into negative territory for the year -- unwelcome news as many investments such as mutual funds mirror the index. By Friday, however, the S&P had rebounded and was up 1.58 percent for the year.
The stock market's recent swoon is owed in part to concerns about the health of the banking sector and how it will emerge from a recent string of write-offs on soured subprime loans, which are those made to borrowers with poor credit. Banks have announced about US$75 billion in writedowns for the third and fourth quarters.
Ron Kiddoo, chief investment officer at Cozad Asset Management in Champaign, Illinois, said Wall Street needs a dose of good news such as continued strength in the job market to shed its sense of anxiety.