Wall Street Takes a Breather After QE-Induced Rout

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The markets hovered in a tight range on Friday after a steep, two-day selloff as traders continued mulling what the Federal Reserve's exit strategy might look like.

Today's Markets

As of 3:15 p.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 91.5 points, or 0.62%, to 14849, S&P 500 gained 9.1 points, or 0.57%, to 1598 and Nasdaq Composite slumped 4.5 points, or 0.13%, to 3360.

Markets were mixed internally on the day. Technology stocks performed the worst by far, followed by financials, materials and energy stocks. Defensive sectors like consumer staples, utilities and telecommunications performed the best.

Investing has not been for the faint of heart of late. The markets have gyrated in recent weeks as traders have tried to make sense of signals from the Federal Reserve on when it will halt its vast asset-buying program.

Chairman Ben Bernanke thoroughly spooked many market participants this Wednesday by saying the central bank is likely to begin trimming down its asset purchases later this year, and halt the program entirely next year. The statement sent the broad S&P 500 plummeting 3.9% over the two-day span -- pushing down year-to-date gains slightly south of 12%.

The sometimes intense fluctuations have launched the CBOE's VIX -- seen as Wall Street's fear gauge -- up to a fresh 2013 high above the 20 mark.

"The recent spike in volatility associated with the stock sell off could lead to some hope of a rapid index turnaround that simply may not occur," Tobias Levkovich, Citigroup's chief equity strategist warned the bank's clients.

"Factors such as tapering, international economic disappointments and challenges for a quicker anticipated equity market leadership shift into global cyclicals suggest that the environment may not be that conducive for a new rally effort quite yet."

Still, many analysts remain hopeful that the Fed will be able to begin its exit from easy-money policies delicately enough that it won't send the markets into a tailspin. In fact Deutsche Bank issued a note to clients on Friday saying the move may cause some fluctuations across many types of assets, but is likely to remain "contained" overall. But the bank still cautioned that a "disorderly" exit remains its main downside risk in the coming year.

Also on the central bank front, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who dissented against the Federal Open Market Committee's decision Wednesday, said the central bank "should have more strongly signaled its willingness to defend its inflation target" and shouldn't have given Bernanke the authorization to provide an approximate timetable to end easing.

Elsewhere, 10-year Treasury yields receded slightly to 2.418% after a selloff in the bond market ignited the biggest jump in rates for the asset since October 2011. Oil prices slipped 26 cents, or 0.27%, to $94.88 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline ticked up 0.6% to $2.804 a gallon.

Gold, which nose dived 6.4% on Thursday, rose by $7.40, or 0.57%, to $1,293.60 a troy ounce.

In corporate news, Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) shares were under pressure after the software giant revealed profits that matched Wall Street's expectations, but tepid sales figures. The company also said it would move to remove its stock from Nasdaq OMX Group's (NASDAQ:NDAQ) Nasdaq Stock Market and re-list it on NYSE Euronext's (NYSE:NYX) New York Stock Exchange.

There are no major economic releases on the calendar.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 climbed 0.49% to 2599, the English FTSE 100 rallied 0.9% to 6215 and the German DAX ticked up 0.21% to 7945.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 surged 1.7% to 13230 and the Chinese Hang Seng dipped 0.59% to 20263.