Stocks are searching for direction on Friday ahead of a derivatives expiration that is expected to generate huge trading volumes.

The S&P 500 was most recently down 3 points to 781 while the Dow Jones industrial average is higher by 6 points to 7409.

Financials are among the laggards with Bank of America lower by 11% and JPMorgan Chase down by 5.5%.

The relative stability in equity markets is a surprise considering Friday is a quadruple witching day. It's one of the four days a year when stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures expire simultaneously. Market watchers expect a surge of activity and the end of the session.

The contracts expire at the end of the session and Dennis Gartman warned investors to beware of sudden movements.

We shall see some rather great, perhaps even titanic battles, fought as the options traders on the floors try to get stocks and indices to close at or near 'Big Figure' for the expiry. We shall try our best to stay out of the way, for as elephants play, the mice come under assault, he wrote in Friday's Gartman Letter.

Commodity options and futures also expire on Friday and that has the potential to rattle the commodity-driven Canadian stock market. So far, commodity prices have been relatively stable with oil lower by 25 cents to $51.79 per barrel and gold down $5 to $955 per troy ounce.

The S&P/TSX was most recently lower by 20 points to 8671. The index has made gains in eight consecutive sessions.

If U.S. equities are unable to get back above water today, the TSX will be vulnerable to catch-up selling as it still closed Thursday with a gain, but this is not going to be a day for aggressive bets either way, said Andrew Pyle, wealth adviser at ScotiaMcLeod. It's better to wait for the dust to clear.

All data taken at 12:01 p.m. EDT.

By Adam Button, abutton@economicnews.ca, edited by Stephen Huebl, shuebl@economicnews.ca