US investors cautious amid earnings season

US stocks ended little changed on Friday as investors took a step back from buying ahead of next week's busy corporate earnings calendar.

Overall earnings are expected to grow by just 1.9 per cent in this season, according to Thomson Reuters data. Analysts say that, with the bar low, there's room for companies to beat expectations, and that may have contributed to the rise in stocks so far in 2013.

That rally has slowed in the last few days.

"It's a market that is waiting for more of a catalyst from earnings," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

The S&P 500 has gained 5 per cent over the last two weeks to take the benchmark to five-year highs.


Wells Fargo & Co set a weak tone Friday after it reported results. It showed lower fourth-quarter net interest margin - a key measure of how much money banks make from loans - even as profit jumped.

The bank, which was the first major financial institution to report results this earnings season, also made fewer mortgage loans than in the third quarter.

Wells Fargo ended down 0.8 per cent at $US35.10, off its lows for the day, while bank shares weighed on the broader market. The S&P 500 financial sector index fell 0.3 per cent after rallying more than 1 per cent on Thursday.

Bank of America Corp, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc are due to report results next week, as are other major companies including General Electric and Intel.

An agreement reached in Washington at the start of the year over the "fiscal cliff" saw investors in US-based funds add $US7.53 billion to stock mutual funds in the week ended Jan 9, the most since 2001, data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service showed.

"The money poured into the market at the beginning of the year and you're going to need new money to bring this market higher," said Krosby. She said that in the short-term the market has a bias toward moving higher, even though it is overbought.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 17.21 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 13,488.43. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dipped 0.07 points to 1,472.05. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 3.88 points, or 0.12 per cent, to 3,125.64.

For the week, the S&P and Dow both gained 0.4 per cent and the Nasdaq rose 0.8 per cent.

Boeing weighed on the Dow after a cracked cockpit window and an oil leak on separate flights in Japan added to problems with some of its Dreamliner 787 jets, compounding safety concerns about the new aircraft.

The US Department of Transportation said the jet would be subject to a review of its critical systems by regulators. Boeing was the biggest loser on the Dow, falling 2.5 per cent to $US75.16.

Best Buy rallied after its results showed a small turnaround in US stores, though same-store sales were flat during the key holiday season. Its shares jumped 16.4 per cent to $US14.21, making it the best performer on the S&P 500.

Dendreon Corp surged 21 per cent to $US6.17 after Sanford C. Bernstein upgraded the drugmaker's stock to "outperform" from "market-perform" and said it could be one of the best performers in 2013.