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US stocks climbed another week — just barely

WASHINGTON — Dull but still positive economic data helped US stocks to another weekly gain Friday, with the S&P 500 chalking up its third straight weekly rise, and its eighth rise in nine weeks.

The gains were minimal after a solid runup from the beginning of the year, and traders could not find much of a reason to keep up their buying.

The broad-based S&P finished the week up 0.28 percent, at 1,369.63, while the narrower blue-chip measure, the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average, slipped a bare 0.04 percent for the period, to 12,977.57.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite did better, ending at 2,976.19 for an 0.42 percent gain.

After the Dow tested ground above the 13,000 level every day — hitting its best levels since May 2008 — on Friday index could not manage to break the 12,980 line except for one extremely brief and odd spike.

The Nasdaq meanwhile bumped to the 3,000 barrier on Wednesday but failed to break through.

The little news there was on the economy during the week was enough to confirm that it was still growing steadily.

But Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, who spoke to Congress on Wednesday, took the enthusiasm out of any who had latched onto an upward revision of the fourth quarter growth rate to a peppy 3.0 percent as a sign of the rebound picking up pace.”Real household income and wealth were flat in 2011, and access to credit remained restricted for many potential borrowers. Consumer sentiment, which dropped sharply last summer, has since rebounded but remains relatively low,” Bernanke said, explaining the Fed’s forecast of growth holding around 2.25 percent in 2012.

Yet, despite his slightly downbeat portrait of the economy, Bernanke gave no hint as to whether the Fed saw any need for a new “QE3″ stimulus to help growth along.

That disappointed analysts and investors hoping to see the central bank do more to juice the economy.

“It’s hard to get too excited about the economy when 70 percent of it (consumption) is stuck in neutral and the rest — business spending, government spending and foreign trade — is slowing down,” said Chris Low of FTN Financial.

“The economic data clearly have a better feel to them but there is no evidence of a sudden break out to the upside,” said Wells Fargo Securities.

“High gasoline prices are clearly still a problem for consumers, particularly for lower and middle income households,” it said.

The upcoming week should give a better picture of the economy, with data releases including the ISM’s services index for February (Monday); business productivity in the fourth quarter (Wednesday); the US trade balance in January (Friday) and job creation and unemployment in February (Friday).

“We expect another strong employment report in February, consistent with declining initial unemployment insurance claims and more optimism about the labor market seen in recent consumer surveys,” said Nigel Gault and Paul Edelstein of IHS Global Insight.

They forecast another fall in the overall jobless rate to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent.

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Tags: Business , Markets and Exchanges , Stock Activity , US stocks

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