Markets closed up today:
▲ Dow: +0.32 percent
▲ Nasdaq: +0.07 percent
▲ S&P: +0.22 percent
▲ Gold: up +0.12 percent to $1,617.50 an ounce
▼ Silver: down -0.11 percent to settle at $28.06
▼ Oil: -0.23 percent
Markets were up because:
The market had a wishy-washy Friday, capping an equally directionless week.
Stocks inched down for most of the day. Then, with 45 minutes of trading left, the Dow Jones industrial average turned positive. The Standard & Poor's 500 and the Nasdaq composite soon followed. All ended the day slightly higher.
In a week with no major developments in Europe's debt crisis, and no surprising reports on the U.S. economy, the market struggled to figure out which way to go. The three indexes rose incrementally on Monday and Tuesday and were mixed on Wednesday and Thursday.
In a market that has grown used to triple-digit swings on the Dow, this week brought none - the first time since early May that that's happened. It was a marked change from the same week a year ago. Back then, the Dow swung by triple digits every day, including one plunge of 634 points, after a downgrade of the U.S. debt rating. This week, the biggest move was a measly 51-point rise on Tuesday.
With many money managers on vacation, trading volume was low.
The second-quarter earnings season continued to wind down calmly, with most companies coming in ahead of profit predictions. But China reported a troubling slowdown in its export growth. And the so-called fiscal cliff of 2013, when government spending cuts and higher taxes kick in, looms larger now that earnings season is out of the way.
To be sure, stocks have risen fairly steadily since the U.S. debt downgrade last August. Compared to a year ago, the Dow Jones industrial average is up 23 percent.
Friday, the Dow ended up 42.76 points at 13,207.95. The S&P 500 rose 3.07 to 1,405.87. The Nasdaq composite rose 2.22 to 3,020.86.
Europe, the cause of so much market consternation for so many months, was quiet. Benchmark indexes fell slightly in France, Germany and Spain. Italy's long-term borrowing costs jumped, a sign that investors are nervous about its ability to pay its debts.
China reported that its export growth slumped to 1 percent in July from more than 11 percent in June, as debt-burdened Europe pulled back on buying Chinese goods.
China is the world's second-largest economy and a major player among world markets. Throughout the recession and its aftermath, as other countries struggled, China kept growing and helped prop up everyone else.
Friday's data was just the latest sign of cracks in the country's armor. Thursday, China said that growth had also slowed in its auto sales and factory output.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.