Stocks were flat on Friday as data showed inflation remained in check last month as the domestic economy continues to improve, but consumer sentiment slipped.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment slipped to 74.3 from 75.3 in February, shy of economists' forecasts for a gain to 76.0 as climbing energy prices pushed inflation expectations higher for next year.

The Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index increased 0.4 percent last month after advancing 0.2 percent in January, in-line with expectations, while inflation pressure, excluding food and energy, remained subdued.

It's still steady as she goes, said Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey. Either way, it didn't really upset the boat.

The benchmark S&P 500 index closed above 1,400 for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis on Thursday. The index is up 11.6 percent for the year as economic data has done little to unsettle investors and trigger a pullback.

The climb has bolstered optimism the run can continue. Credit Suisse analyst Andrew Garthwaite raised his target on the S&P to 1,470 from 1,400, noting equities are now 9 percent above their six-month moving average - but when this has happened, equities have typically risen by 7 percent over the following six months.

But some remained leery that equities could be ripe for a pullback as the CBOE Volatility index <.VIX> remains near lows not seen since 2007.

You have to be careful because you can get lulled into complacency, and that is starting to happen now - it's not a question of if the market is up or down, it's how much is the market going to be up, said Saluzzi.

This week marks the quarterly expiration and settlement of March equity futures and options, an event termed quadruple witching, which could increase volume and volatility.

The Federal Reserve said U.S. industrial production was unchanged in February as a sharp drop in mining output offset a third straight monthly gain in factory production.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 3.59 points, or 0.03 percent, to 13,256.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 0.63 points, or 0.04 percent, to 1,403.23. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dropped 3.22 points, or 0.11 percent, to 3,053.15.

Apple Inc dipped 0.9 percent to $580.15 as its new iPad proved to be another hot-seller on Friday, with hundreds lining up at stores across Asia to be the first to get their hands on the tablet computer.

Several banks, including Goldman Sachs Group, have shown an interest in buying American International Group Inc's complex and troubled assets tied to the insurer's bailout, the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter. AIG added 0.7 percent to $28.27 while Goldman Sachs lost 1.1 percent to $121.76.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)