Stocks are churning sideways on Friday thanks to mixed economic data. Investors are in a wait and see mode. Better than expected retail sales offset weaker than expected consumer sentiment. Meanwhile the U.S. dollar continues to drift but offered no relief for commodities, which ticked lower. Crude oil is down 1.3% to $81.04 a barrel. Gold futures are off over $6 to $1,101 an ounce.

Asian markets were mixed. Traders are still cautious following yesterday's higher than expected inflation numbers out of China. The Hong Kong Hang Seng lost 0.09% today but marked its third weekly gain in a row. The Chinese Shanghai index fell 1.2% and posted its second weekly loss in a row. The Japanese NIKKEI index rallied 0.8%. It turned out to be a relatively quiet session in Europe. Stocks traded off their afternoon highs as investors reacted to the weaker consumer sentiment numbers in the U.S. The French CAC-40 lost 0.04%. The German DAX closed with a +0.28% gain. The English FTSE inched up +0.15%.

This morning the preliminary Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for March was released. Economists were expecting a rise to 74.0. Unfortunately consumer sentiment fell from February's final reading of 73.6 to 72.5. Consumer spending makes up 70% of the U.S. economy and a lack of confidence in the consumer normally means less spending. The disappointing results were softened by a better than expected retail report. The Commerce Department said February's retail sales rose +0.3% versus expectations for a drop due to the widespread snow storms last month.

Currently the market is quietly drifting sideways. The S&P 500 is trying to breakout past resistance at the 1150 level and might be able to close above this number by day's end. The NASDAQ is hovering near new 52-week highs around 2368. The Dow Industrials are trying to close above the 10,600 level. The Russell 2000 index is testing the 680 region. The best performers today are oil services (+0.6%), airlines (+0.6%), retail (+0.6%) and casino stocks (+0.8%). The worst performers are healthcare (-1.1%), homebuilders (-0.9%), and disk drives (-1.0%).

Chart of the S&P 500:

Chart of the NASDAQ:

Chart of the Dow Industrials:

Chart of the Russell 2000 index: