NEW YORK – Stocks rebounded on Friday after two days of steep losses as data showed U.S. consumer sentiment and wholesale business inventories were stronger than expected.
The S&P 500 fell 3.6 percent in the previous two sessions, its worst two-day performance in slightly over a year, following the U.S. election as investors shifted their focus back to the looming "fiscal cliff" and the euro zone's debt crisis.
Positive economic data helped equities bounce. U.S. consumer sentiment climbed to its highest level in more than five years in November, while wholesale inventories rose in September by the most in nine months.
Still, the fiscal cliff and the euro zone's debt crisis remain on the worry list for equities and the global economy.
The fiscal cliff, a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases set to go into effect early next year unless Congress acts to change the law before then, could take an estimated $600 billion out of the U.S. economy and push it into recession.
"Clearly, taxes are going up, and that is something the market doesn't like. There is concern the economy continues to weaken, and there is not much left in the tank, in terms of making corporate profitability better," said Stephen Massocca, managing director of Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.
"It's only natural we get a bounce today, but I don't know that we are out of the woods yet."
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 62.90 points, or 0.49 percent, to 12,874.22. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 12.12 points, or 0.88 percent, to 1,389.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 32.47 points, or 1.12 percent, to 2,928.05.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner called on President Barack Obama to lead the efforts to avert the fiscal cliff, but stood by his opposition to any tax increases on the wealthy.
While a comprehensive legislative agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff was possible, the more likely scenario would be for political leaders to find a temporary fix in order to buy time until a new Congress and the re-elected president are sworn in at the start of the new year.
President Barack Obama, re-elected three days ago, is expected to make a statement in the White House about the looming tax increases and government spending cuts. Obama's statement is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.(1805 GMT).
Growth in Germany, Europe's largest economy, is likely to weaken in the next two quarters as companies postpone investments while France's central bank said it expected the euro zone's second-largest economy to slip into recession as 2012 ends.
Greece is fast running out of cash while it awaits the next tranche of its 130-billion-euro international bailout that is keeping it afloat, a deputy finance minister said.
The S&P 500 closed on Thursday below its 200-day moving average for the first time in five months, a bearish technical signal that could keep stocks under pressure.
Groupon Inc's shares slid 27.2 percent to $2.85 a day after the daily deal company's results fell short of Wall Street's expectations.
The stock of J.C. Penney fell 6.6 percent to $20.26 and ranked as the S&P 500's biggest decliner after the retailer reported a sharper-than-expected decline in quarterly sales at stores open at least a year.
According to Thomson Reuters data through Friday, of the 449 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 63.3 percent have topped analysts' expectations - slightly above the 62 percent average since 1994, but below the 67 percent beat rate over the past four quarters.
But revenue results remain disappointing, with only 38.2 percent of companies topping expectations - well below the 62 percent average since 2002, and the 55 percent beat rate over the past four quarters.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)