Wall Street Struggles for Direction After Massive Selloff

MarketsDow Jones Newswires

U.S. stocks edged slightly higher on Friday but the main benchmarks were poised to record weekly losses after a roller-coaster week of up-and-down trading.

The whip-lashing equity moves have been characterized by a spike in volatility (a measure of fear in the markets) on concerns about slowing global growth. The widely watched CBOE VIX (VIX) a gauge of current fear in the market on Thursday, surged 23% to mark its highest level since February.

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The S&P 500 (SPX) was up 3 points, or 0.2%, at 1,931.52. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) added 32 points, or 0.2%, to 16,649. The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) trimmed losses to trade 7 points, or 0.2%, lower at 4,372.28.

"Bad economic data is now being viewed as bad and the dovish signals from central banks are now being taken as a sign of weakness rather than a reason to ramp up equities," wrote Jonathan Sudaria, a dealer at Capital Spreads, in Friday note that highlighted the rout in European stocks. The Stoxx Europe 600 was looking at its biggest weekly loss in more than a year, with Germany's economic ministry saying Friday the growth outlook for Europe's largest economy is dimming.

Concerns about dampened demand for oil continued to pressure crude futures on Friday. U.S. oil futures (CLX4) dropped 1.1%, below $85 a barrel after closing Thursday's session at their lowest level since December 2012. Brent futures remained below $90 a barrel.

"Going into the weekend with so much uncertainty in the air will only further fuel traders compulsion to get out of risky assets and it would take a miracle for the bulls to salvage anything today," said Sudaria.

Data: The prices paid for imported goods fell 0.5% in September and declined for the third straight month, another sign that U.S. inflationary pressures remain muted. The main reason: falling worldwide oil prices.

At 2 p.m., Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker will speak at the annual meeting of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges. At the same time, Kansas City Fed President Esther George is scheduled to speak at McCook Community College in McCook, Neb. George isn't a voting member of the Fed policy committee this year.

Stocks to watch: Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) late Thursday unveiled its latest Model S car. But shares slid 5.9% .

Symantec Corp. (SYMC) shares were off 1.1%. The security software maker late Thursday said it plans to split in two publicly traded companies.

Juniper Networks Inc. (JNPR) fell 4.5% after late Thursday's warning that fiscal third-quarter revenue and adjusted earnings are likely to come in below its previous estimates.

Exact Sciences Corp. (EXAS) shares rallied 36% as the company's Cologuard test to detect colorectal cancer will be covered by Medicare.

Alpha Pro Tech Ltd. (APT) is up 32% and Lakeland Industries Inc. (LAKE) is up 16% following gains from Thursday amid rising Ebola outbreak concerns. Alpha Pro Tech's infection control unit makes face masks and eye shields, and Lakeland makes protective clothing for health care and first responders.

Other markets: Gold futures (GCZ4) shed about $2 an ounce. The dollar (DXY) was slightly higher against its rivals after Thursday's fall to a fresh three-week low. In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index and Tokyo's Nikkei Average fell 1.9% and 1.2%, respectively.