Stocks Drift Lower, Oil Remains in Focus

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Wall Street drifted lower on Friday, with the broad S&P 500 slipping from the highest level in nearly four years, as traders kept an eye on jittery crude oil markets.

Today's Markets

As of 2:55 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 8.2 points, or 0.06%, to 12972, the S&P 500 dipped 4.1 points, or 0.3%, to 1370 and the Nasdaq Composite slumped 10.6 points, or 0.36%, to 2978.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq has had an even stronger performance than the S&P 500 so far this year, rallying 14.7% to its highest value since the December 2000.

As Wall Street's performance has picked up, volatility has plunged. The CBOE's VIX, which is sometimes referred to as an equity fear gauge, presently trades at 17.3, having spiked to nearly 43 in September of last year, which was the highest since the financial crisis.

"We view these drops as symptomatic of a less anxious and potentially more range-bound market context," analysts at Barclays Capital wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

While equity markets have been reasonably tame recently, oil has been the subject of several large swings. After prices settled on Thursday, an Iranian media outlet reported a Saudi Arabian oil pipeline exploded, sending Brent crude prices, which are the European benchmark, soaring to levels not seen since 2008. As Saudi officials began spreading word that the report was untrue, prices have moderated somewhat.

The U.S. contract traded in New York fell $2.14, or 2%, to $106.70 a barrel. Still, futures are roughly 10% for 2012 thus far. New York Harbor RBOB gasoline sold off by 2.4% to $3.272 a gallon. A gallon of regular at the pump costs $3.741 on average nationwide, up from $3.645 last month and $3.427 last year, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge report.

Gold fell $9.00, or 0.52%, to $1,713 a troy ounce.

In corporate news, shares of local-review website Yelp (NYSE:YELP) soared 60% in their debut on the New York Stock Exchange. Elsewhere, Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP) chief executive and president James Young said on Friday he will be taking a medical leave of absence after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

There are no major U.S. economic reports on tap for the day.

On the European front, EU officials are expected to sign off on a bailout package Greece needs to stave off a default during the middle of next week.

The euro slid 0.48%, while the U.S. dollar rose 0.62% against a basket of six world currencies.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips fell 0.1%, the English FTSE 100 dropped 0.34% to 5911 and the German DAX slumped 0.29% to 6921.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 rose 0.72% to 9777 and the Chinese Hang Seng jumped 0.81% to 21562.