Stocks Squeeze out Small Gains

But Merck kept the Dow in check after dropping a key drug trial. Next week brings a heavy dose of economic news

Stocks eked out small gains on Friday on upbeat corporate profit news. But the blue-chip Dow average was kept in check by Merck (MRK ) after the Big Pharma stalwart announced it was dropping a key drug trial.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended up 9.11 points, or 0.09%, at 9,628.53. The tech-heavy Nasdaq added 11.96 points, or 0.64%, to 1,893.883. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 1.63 points, or 0.16%, to 1,035.28.

While Friday's session ended on a positive note, traders face a list of worries, notes S&P MarketScope: potential trade wars, fears of more terrorist attacks, and congressional spending battles.

By the end of Friday's session, market players had already turned their attention to next week, which is fairly light on earnings reports. On Monday, food company Campbell Soup (CPB ) is scheduled to release results, followed on Tuesday by farm-equipment maker Deere & Company (DE ), financial services firm H&R Block (HRB ), and spirits outfit Brown-Forman (BFB ).

The week, however will be heavy on economic data with updated figures on Tuesday for third quarter gross domestic product and consumer confidence in November. Economic research firm MMS sees the consumer confidence gauge ticking up to 85 from an 81 reading in October. On Wednesday will be figures on filings for first-time jobless benefits for the week ending Nov. 22. MMS sees the number of claims flat at 355,000. And on Friday comes figures on the Institute of Supply Management's survey of industrial production in November. That reading is supposed to be flat at 57, with any number above 50 indicating expansion.

The stock market will be closed Thursday for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Friday will see an abbreviated session for stocks, with trading ending at 1:00 p.m. ET.

On Friday, Nov. 21, entertainment concern and Dow component Walt Disney (DIS ) posted quarterly net profit that more than doubled thanks to solid results from its film and TV segments. But traders mostly shrugged it off with some investors concluding the bounce-back had already been factored into the stock price.

Meanwhile, Merck said it was halting the broad testing phase of its diabetes treatment after a safety assessment revealed a rare form of malignant tumors in mice. The news weighed on the Dow.

In other equities news, clothing retailer Gap (GPS ), which also owns Banana Republic and Old Navy, reported a higher quarterly profit thanks to higher sales.

Doughnut chain Krispy Kreme (KKD ) posted 43% higher quarterly earnings lifted by new store openings. But the company's average weekly sales declined 3%.

Retailer Nordstrom reported more than double the third quarter earnings it booked last year on higher sales. The Seattle company also boosted its full-year earnings estimates.

In the bad news column, U.S. mortgage finance company Freddie Mac (FRE ) revealed it understated earnings by $5 billion over the past few years so it could show steady profit growth.

Business software outfit Novell (NOVL ) said its quarterly loss widened after charges but also said it would eke out a profit in fiscal 2004.

"While to-date, selling pressure has been contained due to the encouraging outlook for the economy and earnings, there is growing concern that deteriorating technicals and efforts to lock in profits into yearend could result in more selling over the next few weeks," Rick MacDonald, MMS senior economist, writes in an investment note.

Treasury Market

Treasuries ended Friday's session mostly lower. According to MMS, Treasuries were caught in a narrow range trade, consolidating Thursday's volatile session as a geopolitical safety bid underpinned and kept shorts at bay ahead of the weekend and the coming of Thanksgiving. Trading remained quiet.

Next week, the bond market will post early closes at 2:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday and Friday, and a full market close on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday.

World Markets

European stock markets closed higher after a sell-off in the previous session following the the Turkey blasts.

London's Financial Times-Stock Exchange 100 index was up 11 points, or 0.26%, to 4,319.

In Paris, the CAC 40 added 41.73 points, or 1.26%, to 3,366.12.

Germany's DAX index was up 4.21 points, or 0.12%, to 3,642.25.

Asian stock markets finished lower. Japan's Nikkei 225 index eased 12.87 points, or 0.13%, to finish at 9,852.83.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index gave up 5.61 points, or 0.05%, to finish at 11,839.80.

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