Business

Stocks end their best month since 2011 with declines

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.
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. The Associated Press

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

Major stock indexes closed lower 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 fell 81.72, or 0.45 percent, to 18,132.70. That’s down 0.5 percent from its most recent high of 18,224.57 on Wednesday.

The S&P 500 fell 6.24, or 0.30 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, or 0.49 percent, to 4,963.53. The index has been inching closer to crossing the 5,000 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.

The current bull market, now in its sixth year, has been powered by strong corporate earnings growth and low interest rates, which make stocks more attractive relative to bonds. Strong job growth and improving consumer confidence have also encouraged traders despite signs of sluggishness in Europe and elsewhere.

Some of that confidence appeared shaken Friday when the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the October-December quarter, weaker than the 2.6 percent estimate last month. The latest growth projection represents a major slowdown from the previous quarter, which produced the strongest growth in 11 years.

Other economic bellwethers were more upbeat. An index of pending home sales, an indicator of potentially completed sales, rose in January, and the December figure was revised higher to show a smaller decline. Separately, the University of Michigan’s index of consumer sentiment slipped this month. It remains at the highest level in eight years.

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