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The close: S&P 500 squeaks by with small gain Add to ...

Stocks squeaked by with slight gains on Friday, marking the first stable day of trading after major indexes were hit hard on consecutive days following the U.S. presidential election this week.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 12,815.39, up 4.07 points or close to zero per cent. The broader S&P 500 closed at 1379.85, up 2.34 per cent or nearly 0.2 per cent. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 12,196.80, up 5.75 points or less than 0.1 per cent.

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Over the previous two days, the S&P 500 had fallen a combined 51 points or 3.6 per cent as investors fretted over the European debt crisis, China’s economy and the U.S. fiscal cliff of rising taxes and lower government spending.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 also hit a technical barrier: It closed below its 200-day moving average, which is seen as a bearish development by some investors. Despite Friday’s gains, the index remained below its 200-day moving average of 1381.

There were some upbeat developments on Friday, though. In the United States, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index seemed to help lift spirits. Its November reading rose to 84.9 from 82.6 in October – marking its fourth straight increase sending the index to its highest level since July 2007.

And in China, the economy showed signs of shaking off recent weakness: Retail sales rose 14.5 per cent in October, industrial production rose 9.6 per cent and inflation slowed to 1.7 per cent – its slowest pace in 33 months, according to Bloomberg News.

Apple Inc. rose 1.7 per cent, rebounding from a bear market selloff that had sent the stock down as much as 23 per cent from its high – including an 8 per cent dip over the previous three trading days. While there are concerns about the company’s ability to compete in the increasingly fragmented smart phone and tablet markets, analysts have stuck to their bullish target prices on the stock in recent reports. According to Bloomberg News, the average target is $760 (U.S.).

In Canada, Telus Corp. rose 1.5 per cent after it reported a 7.7 per cent gain in its quarterly earnings and boosted its dividend by 3 cents a share.

Rona Inc. jumped 8.2 per cent after its chief executive, Robert Dutton, stepped down from the home improvement chain. On Wednesday, Rona reported earnings of just $5.1-million (Canadian), down from nearly $48-million last year. The company had rejected a takeover offer from Lowe’s Cos. in July, before Lowe’s withdrew its proposal in September.

Commodity prices moved higher. Crude oil rose to $86.08 (U.S.) a barrel, up 98 cents. Gold rose to $1,730.90 an ounce, up $4.90.

Among Canadian commodity producers, Barrick Gold Corp. fell 1.3 per cent and Suncor Energy Inc. fell 0.2 per cent.

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