MARKET SNAPSHOT: Stock Market T On Track For Weekly Decline

By Sue Chang, MarketWatch , Ryan Vlastelica Features Dow Jones Newswires

J.C. Penney, latest retailer to disappoint, tumbles after results

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U.S. stocks traded lower on Friday and were on track for a weekly decline as investors reacted to an uncertain political environment stemming from President Donald Trump's firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey.

Meanwhile, retail sales and consumer prices rose in the latest month, albeit by a slower pace than had been expected, offering a mixed picture of the state of the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 29 points, or 0.1%, to 20,889. The S&P 500 index slipped 4 points, or 0.2%, to 2,389.

If the S&P 500 closes with less than a 0.5% gain or loss on Friday, it will mark the 13th straight session that the large-cap index moved within 0.5% range, the longest streak since September 1995, according to the Dow Jones Data Group.

The Nasdaq Composite Index edged 2 points to 6,118.

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For the week so far, the Dow is looking at 0.6% drop and the S&P 500 at a 0.4% decline, each set to break a three-week win streak. The Nasdaq Composite is poised for a gain of 0.3%. That would mark the index's fourth straight weekly rise, although the smallest in the streak.

Major U.S. indexes continue to trade near record levels, and the CBOE Volatility index , a proxy for investor anxiety, has been trading near multidecade lows. Earlier this week, it closed at its lowest level in more than 23 years (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/is-this-the-day-wall-streets-fear-gauge-hits-rock-bottom-2017-05-08). The VIX rose 1.4% to 10.75, roughly half its long-term average of 20.

Don't miss:Technician sees absence of fear leading to stock market top in late May (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/top-technician-sees-absence-of-fear-leading-to-stock-market-top-in-late-may-2017-05-12)

"No one really knows what it means to have such a low VIX at a time of such high uncertainty, rising rates, high valuations, and corporate profits that aren't particularly strong," said Jonathan Angrist, chief investment officer of Cognios Capital. "It is very unusual."

The dominant story over the past few days has been the recent firing of Comey. While this is seen as having little direct impact on corporate profits or stock prices, prolonged uncertainty on this front could be a catalyst for greater investor anxiety and market declines. Friday morning, Trump tweeted that Comey should hope there are no "tapes" (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-says-comey-should-hope-there-are-no-tapes-and-threatens-to-cancel-press-briefings-2017-05-12) of conversations between he and Trump, a statement he didn't elaborate on.

See also:Here's why stocks could rally if Trump heads for the exit (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-why-stocks-could-rally-if-trump-heads-for-the-exit-2017-05-12)

"Who the FBI director is won't have an impact on markets, but it is part of a bigger puzzle," Angrist said. "There's a lot of political messiness, and that certainly leads to uncertainty and confusion in the market, and it suggests that, to me, we should have much higher volatility than we currently have. There's a tremendous amount of global uncertainty."

U.S. stocks finished with losses on Thursday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nasdaqs-record-run-on-the-line-as-snap-tumbles-after-results-2017-05-11), though well off session lows, led by declines for retail shares. Investors also grappled with the Comey firing which, among other things, suggested it might be even harder for Trump to push his economic agenda through Congress, something experts say is necessary to justify the market's postelection rally.

Read:Retail stocks rocked as Macy's casts pall on sector (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/retail-stocks-rocked-as-macys-casts-pall-on-sector-2017-05-11)

Economic docket: Retail sales rose 0.4% in April (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/retail-sales-strengthen-in-april-brightening-economic-outlook-2017-05-12), according to the Commerce Department, below the 0.5% increase that had been forecast. Separately, consumer prices rose 0.2% (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-consumer-prices-rebound-in-april-2017-05-12) while core CPI was up 0.1%, a slighter increase than expected.

Read:Whew--the U.S. economy really isn't slowing (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/whew-us-economy-really-isnt-slowing-2017-05-07)

The University of Michigan's read on consumer sentiment rose to 97.7 in early May, slightly ahead of expectations (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/consumer-sentiment-leaps-in-may-but-partisan-divide-remains-university-of-michigan-says-2017-05-12).

Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker, speaking at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said that the U.S. economy can handle two more interest rate increases this year as "things are looking good (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/feds-harker-backs-two-more-rate-hikes-this-year-saying-things-are-looking-good-2017-05-12)."

Stock movers:General Electric Co.(GE) fell 2.8% after Deutsche Bank downgraded the stock to sell (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ges-stock-lead-dow-losers-after-analyst-downgrade-to-rare-sell-rating-2017-05-12), citing concerns over earnings quality. The industrial conglomerate was the largest decliner among Dow components.

Shares of J.C. Penney Co.'s (JCP) slumped 10% after the department-store chain reported a larger-than-expected fall in same-store sales.

Read:J.C. Penney options traders prep for an unusually wild ride after earnings report (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jc-penney-options-traders-prep-for-an-unusually-wild-ride-after-earnings-report-2017-05-11)

(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jc-penney-options-traders-prep-for-an-unusually-wild-ride-after-earnings-report-2017-05-11)Tidewater Inc.(TDW) sank 3.1% after the oil services company said it expects to file for bankruptcy by May 17 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/tidewaters-stock-plunges-after-announcing-bankruptcy-plan-2017-05-12).

U.S.-listed shares of AstraZeneca PLC (AZN.LN) jumped 8.3% as the drugmaker posted positive, late-stage study results (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/astrazeneca-plans-imfinzi-submission-after-trial-2017-05-12) for cancer treatment Imfinzi.

Other markets: U.S. oil prices fell 0.4% in choppy trade on Friday, though it remained on track for a weekly gain of more than 2%. Investors remain hopeful that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will extend a production-cut deal when it meets on May 25.

Read:Here's why OPEC might just let the deal on oil output collapse (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-why-opec-might-just-let-the-deal-on-oil-output-cuts-collapse-2017-05-11)

Also:Here's one thing that could scuttle an extension of OPEC's oil output cuts (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-one-thing-that-could-scuttle-an-extension-of-opecs-oil-output-cuts-2017-05-12)

Asian stocks were mixed (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/asian-markets-pull-back-after-weak-earnings-in-us-2017-05-11), as some indexes retreated in step with U.S. stock losses, but Chinese equities gained. European stocks moved modestly higher (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-log-small-gains-as-vivendi-rallies-but-cartiers-parent-a-drag-2017-05-12).

Gold prices strengthened, while the dollar index retreated.

--Barbara Kollmeyer contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 12, 2017 13:00 ET (17:00 GMT)