U.S. stocks barely changed on Friday as data showing retail sales rose unexpectedly last month was offset by weaker consumer sentiment, sending mixed signals about the economic outlook.

An S&P index of retailers' stocks <.RLX> gained 0.3 percent, while a consumer discretionary index <.GSPD> was flat.

Among manufacturers, United Technologies Corp fell 0.9 percent to $71.40 after reiterating its 2010 profit outlook.

Sentiment declined slightly in early March, Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan surveys of consumers showed, and the reading was below forecasts, adding to concerns about consumer spending going forward.

But earlier in the day, the U.S. government reported February retail sales rose, while forecasts had called for a decline. The news bolstered hopes the recovery is sustainable.

Retail sales data was positive and I would have expected it to be positive. We saw good retail comps a couple of weeks ago, said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was off just 0.30 of a point, or unchanged on a percentage basis, at 10,611.54. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 1.31 points, or 0.11 percent, at 1,148.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 1.87 points, or 0.08 percent, at 2,366.59.

Stocks rose modestly for three consecutive sessions this week, with the S&P hitting a 17-month closing high on Thursday.

CF Industries Holdings Inc fell 4.1 percent to $96.49 after Agrium Inc abandoned its $5.4 billion bid for the company and brought CF closer to closing a deal with Terra Industries Inc . Agrium jumped 7.9 percent to $72.07.

In other economic data, the Commerce Department said business inventories were unchanged in January, compared with a forecast for a rise of 0.2 percent.

(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Jan Paschal)