U.S. stocks closed little changed on Friday, but Wall Street wrapped up its best month in a year after the earnings season rounded the final turn with a group of strong results that offset the impact of poor economic data.
While the major indexes each posted 7 percent gains for the month, it came during low volume and followed a combined decline of nearly 14 percent for May and June.
The conflict between strong earnings and lackluster economic news has held stocks in a tight range throughout July. Prior to Friday's open, second-quarter GDP data disappointed investors, even though shares came back later in the session.
A lack of clear direction has led to more technical trading, with the S&P 500 finding support around 1,100 while struggling to move above its 200-day moving average around 1,115. A sustained move above that level would be bullish for investors.
We have failed up here essentially about three times, so technically people are using that as something to lean on the short side, said Nick Kalivas, vice president of financial research and senior equity index analyst at MF Global.
Kalivas said global purchasing managers' indexes at the start of next week will give investors a better idea about the direction of the economy and could be a catalyst for markets.
The market kind of stalled up the last couple of days. On the surface earnings numbers have been pretty strong, but underneath there was a loss of momentum, he said.
Speculators are net short the S&P 500, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission data but trimmed their short portions from a week earlier.
For July the Dow rose 7.1 percent, the S&P 500 gained 6.9 percent and the Nasdaq added 6.9 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 1.22 points, or 0.01 percent, to 10,465.94. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 0.05 points, or 0.00 percent, to 1,101.58. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> gained 3.01 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,254.70.
For the week, the Dow rose 0.4 percent, the S&P 500 lost 0.1 percent and the Nasdaq dipped 0.7 percent.
In corporate news, Chevron Corp , the second-largest U.S. oil company, reported a three-fold jump in quarterly profit, topping Wall Street's forecast, but its revenue was below analysts' estimate. The shares rose 0.2 percent at $76.21.
U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co reported a profit that beat analysts' estimates, but its sales were less than Wall Street's expectations, and the stock fell 1.7 percent to $34.46.
In the Commerce Department's first estimate of economic growth for the second quarter, U.S. GDP expanded at a 2.4 percent annual rate, driven by capital investment, but the expansion was down from the first quarter's revised 3.7 percent rise.
U.S. consumer sentiment plunged in July to its lowest level since November on bleak prospects for jobs and income a year since the economic recovery began, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers.
The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago business barometer, however, showed businesses boosted employment and orders.
About 7.63 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, short of last year's estimated daily average of 9.65 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 3 to 2, while on the Nasdaq, about five stocks rose for every four that fell.
(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Kenneth Barry)