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In this Oct. 20, 2012 photo, Chinese people line up to enter a newly opened Apple Store in Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing. A Chinese court has ordered Apple Inc. to pay 1.03 million yuan ($165,000) to eight Chinese writers and two companies who say unlicensed copies of their work were distributed through Apple's online store. (Andy Wong/AP)
In this Oct. 20, 2012 photo, Chinese people line up to enter a newly opened Apple Store in Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing. A Chinese court has ordered Apple Inc. to pay 1.03 million yuan ($165,000) to eight Chinese writers and two companies who say unlicensed copies of their work were distributed through Apple's online store. (Andy Wong/AP)

The close: Dow nears record high; Apple at 52-week low Add to ...

U.S. stocks pulled out of a weak start on Friday, ending the day with modest gains that pushed the Dow Jones industrial average closer to a new record high. Canadian stocks fell, weighed down by commodities.

The S&P 500 closed at 1518.21, up 3.53 points or 0.2 per cent. The Dow closed at 14,089.66, up 35.17 points or 0.3 per cent – fewer than 60 points below its record-high close in 2007. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 12,773.12, down 48.71 points or 0.4 per cent.

The moves followed disappointing economic reports from China and Europe, declining commodity prices and the start of federal spending cuts in the United States – yet some upbeat U.S. economic reports.

The U.S. ISM factory index rose to 54.2 in February, up from 53.1 in January and ahead of expectations. As well, the final reading for the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index rose to 77.6 in February, up from an earlier reading of 76.3.

However, manufacturing activity in China slowed and factory output in the euro zone contracted for the 19th straight month. And in the United States, disagreement in Washington over spending cuts means that $85-billion (U.S.) of automatic cuts are set to begin, raising concerns about the impact on the economy.

Among commodities, gold fell to $1,575.78 an ounce, down $3.80 and marking its third straight decline. Crude oil fell to $90.98 a barrel, down $1.07 for its lowest level of 2013. Suncor Energy Inc. fell 1.1 per cent and Barrick Gold Corp. fell 3.4 per cent.

Apple Inc. fell 2.5 per cent, to $430.47, marking a fresh 52-week low. Hedge fund manager David Einhorn dropped his lawsuit against the company over Apple’s desire to ban preferred shares from its financial structure – while Apple agreed to drop the withdrawal.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. reported that its fourth-quarter earnings jumped 49 per cent on gains tied to derivatives. Yet, the release of Warren Buffett’s letter to shareholders attracted the most attention, with the Oracle of Omaha saying he was disappointed about not making a major acquisition in 2012 – but remarking that “opportunities abound in America.”

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