U.S. stocks closed mixed Friday, rebounding a bit from mid week selling. The S&P 500 gained 0.4% while the NASDAQ dropped 0.1%.
- The Commerce Department said that consumer spending rose 0.8% in February as demand for long-lasting goods, like automobiles, rose sharply. When adjusted for inflation, spending advanced 0.5%, the largest gain since September. A 0.2% rise in income helped cover some of the rise in spending last month, but consumers also saved less. The saving rate dropped to 3.7%, the lowest rate since August 2009.
- The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's final March reading for the overall consumer sentiment index rose to 76.2, the highest level since February 2011, from 75.3 in February.
- The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago's business barometer slipped to 62.2 from 64.0 in February. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the regional economy.
Corn and soybean prices soared Friday after two reports indicated that supplies could remain very tight into 2013, even as demand continues to strengthen. Corn rose 6.6%, and soybeans ended up 3.5%. Wheat prices jumped almost 8% because of expectations that fewer acres will be planted this year.
- The U.S. Agriculture Department said corn stockpiles totaled 6.01 billion bushels on March 1, which was 8% less than on March 1, 2011. It was a larger drop in inventories than many traders had expected. Farmers are expected to plant 73.9 million acres in soybeans this year, a decline of 1% from a year ago and below traders' expectations. Corn and soybean inventories are already tight in the U.S. and around the world, and a drought damaged those crops in South America.
- The agriculture agency said wheat inventories totaled 1.2 billion bushels on March 1, down 16% from a year ago.
Gold rose $17.10 to finish at $1,669.30 an ounce, and silver increased 49.2 cents to $32.484 an ounce. Crude oil increased 24 cents to finish at $103.02 per barrel.
Germany's DAX closed up 1%, while the CAC-40 in France rose 1.3%. The FTSE 100 was up 0.5%.
- The 17 countries that use the euro have boosted their emergency funding for heavily indebted countries to €800 billion ($1.1 trillion) — an amount that falls short of what the currency union's international partners had said is needed to calm financial markets. Of the €800 billion limit eurozone finance ministers agreed to Friday, only some €500 billion ($670 billion) is still available for new bailout loans. About €300 billion ($400 billion) in loans have already been used to bail out Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
- The International Monetary Fund and others have been calling for a financial "firewall" of more than €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) — just in case the much larger economies of Spain and Italy need assistance.
Japan dropped 0.3% while China gained 0.5%.
- Japan reported a 1.2% decline in industrial output in February that was worse than expected and reflected lagging output in the transport equipment, electronics components and machinery industries. Production of cell phones, large passenger cars and liquid crystal devices also weakened, the government said.