WASHINGTON — The mixed economic signals driving the stock market's record-setting swings this week keep coming. On Friday, conflicting reports on retail sales and consumer sentiment sent the Dow up, then down, then up again.
By early afternoon, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 162 points. It had been up more than 150 points early Friday after a government report consumers spent more on autos, furniture and gasoline in July, pushing up retail sales by the largest amount in four months. But the Dow briefly turned negative after a dismal survey on consumers' feelings about their personal finances and the economy.
The Reuters/University of Michgan survey of consumer sentiment fell to a 30-year low.
The retail sales data covered all of July, but financial markets didn't start their wild ride until July 22. The sentiment survey was taken over the past 10 days, as Americans watched the markets leap and dive on news about Europe's spreading financial crisis, the first-ever downgrade of the U.S.s long-term credit rating, signals that the job market improved slightly in July and strong earnings from a technology bellwether.
Normally, such a bad consumer survey would have pushed shares sharply lower for the day, said Quincy Krosby, an investment strategist with Prudential Financial.
"But these are not normal times," she said. Market volatility cuts both ways, sending shares way up or way down, Krosby noted. That can cause shares to defy economic data.
A separate government report on Friday showed that businesses increased their stockpiles of everything from raw materials to retail products for the 18th month in a row. Growing inventories are usually a sign of business confidence. But nervous consumers have held back recently; in June they cut their spending for the first time in nearly two years.
Markets worldwide gained on Friday despite a trade report Thursday that showed the economic slowdown might be a global phenomenon. France reported Friday that economic growth in the country slowed sharply in the second quarter.