Stocks continue to turn in a lackluster performance in mid-afternoon trading on Friday, although the major averages have climbed well above the unchanged line after showing a negative bias throughout much of the morning.

While the markets have benefited from strength among materials and energy stocks, buying interest has remained somewhat subdued. Traders appear reluctant to make any significant moves going into the weekend.

In an interview with RTT News, Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist of Standard & Poor's Equity Research suggested that investors turn a deaf ear to the old adage sell in May and go away this year.

Stovall pointed to the fact that since 1932, the market has gained an average of 12.2 percent in the May to October period following bear market bottoms.

There's a good chance we are in the beginning of a bull market, Stovall added, although he warned that history points to a likely digestion of the recent gains over the next month or two.

Earlier in the day, the Institute for Supply Management released a report showing that activity in the manufacturing sector continued to contract in the month of April, although the pace of contraction slowed by more than economists had expected.

The ISM said its index of activity in the sector rose to 40.1 in April from 36.3 in March, with a reading below 50 indicating a contraction in the sector. Economists had been expecting a more modest increase to a reading of 38.4.

Commenting on the increase, Norbert J. Ore, chair of the ISM Manufacturing Business Survey Committee noted, While this is a big step forward, there is still a large gap that must be closed before manufacturing begins to grow once again.

Separately, the Commerce Department said that factory orders fell by 0.9 percent in March following a downwardly revised 0.7 percent increase in February. The decrease was steeper than the 0.6 percent decrease expected by economists.

On the corporate front, Oil giant Chevron (CVX) is seeing moderate strength after the Dow component reported first quarter earnings that fell sharply year-over-year but came in better than analysts had expected.

Chevron reported first quarter earnings of $1.84 billion or $0.92 per share compared to $5.17 billion or $2.48 per share in the year-ago quarter. Analysts had been expecting the company to report earnings of $0.81 per share.

The major averages have pulled back well off their best levels of the day in recent trading, but they are holding onto modest gains. The Dow is currently up 24.61 at 8,192.73, the Nasdaq is up 4.09 at 1,721.39 and the S&P 500 is up 4.37 at 877.18.

Dow Components

While the Dow components are turning in a mixed performance in mid-afternoon trading, strong gains by some of the blue chip stocks are helping to keep the index above the unchanged line.

Alcoa (AA) is turning in one of the Dow's best performances, with the aluminum producer currently up 8.4 percent after reaching a three-month intraday high. The gain by Alcoa comes after the company agreed to sell its wire harness and electrical distribution business.

Shares of Caterpillar (CAT) have also shown a strong upward move, adding to the gains posted in the two previous sessions. Caterpillar is currently up 5.3 percent, with the construction equipment maker rising to its best intraday level in over three months.

Boeing (BA), Pfizer (PFE), and Exxon Mobil (XOM) are among the other Dow components posting notable gains. Shares of Boeing are currently up 2.7 percent, poised to end the session at a more than two-month closing high.

At the other end of the spectrum, shares of General Motors (GM) are currently down 6.3 percent after the auto giant reported a 34 percent year-over-year decrease in April sales. Home Depot (HD), American Express (AXP), and JP Morgan (JPM) are also posting notable losses.

Sector News

As mentioned above, resource stocks are turning in some of the market's best performances in mid-afternoon trading, with steel stocks posting particularly strong gains. The Amex Steel Index is currently up 6.7 percent, rising to its best intraday level in well over six months.

Within the resource sector, oil service and natural gas stocks are also posting notable gains. Some transportation, defense, and electronic storage stocks also seeing considerable strength. Among storage stocks, Hutchinson Technology (HTCH) is currently up 12 percent.

On the other hand, significant weakness remains visible in the real estate sector, as reflected by the 2.3 percent loss currently being shown by the Morgan Stanley REIT Index. Retail, housing, and banking stocks are also under pressure.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, most of the major markets in both the Asia-Pacific region and Europe were closed for May Day holidays. Nonetheless, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed up 1.7 percent, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index closed nearly flat.

Meanwhile, treasuries are seeing notable weakness, extending a recent downward move, Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note is currently up 5.8 basis points at 3.182 percent after reaching a five-month high of 3.207 percent.

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