A sharp rally in crude oil and energy shares kept U.S. stocks in positive territory on Friday, but indexes were on track to post losses for the week and a drop in shares of biotechs kept a lid on the Nasdaq.
The Nasdaq Biotech index .NBI down 1.4 percent on the day.
Investors were cautious ahead of earnings, which begin in earnest next week with reports from Alcoa (AA.N) and four of the big banks.
The S&P 500 is down 1.1 percent for the week so far, which would be its biggest weekly decline since early February. The index has mostly rallied since mid-February along with oil prices and as worries over China eased.
Peter Kenny, senior market strategist at Global Markets Advisory Group, in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, said investors continue to take their cue from the oil market but focus will shift to earnings next week.
"The Street is not expecting much in Q1 earnings, but right now the market is moving as a direct result of dovish commentary from the Fed and crude's ability to rally. That is good news for investors but I'm not sure how long of a shelf life that has," he said.
U.S. crude oil settled more than 6 percent higher after data showed lower U.S. stockpiles, driving gains of 1.7 percent in S&P energy index .SPNY.
At 3:12 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 6.51 points, or 0.04 percent, to 17,548.47, the S&P 500 .SPX had gained 1.9 points, or 0.09 percent, to 2,043.81 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC had dropped 6.94 points, or 0.14 percent, to 4,841.43.
Earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to have declined 7.6 percent in the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Investors also are listening closely to comments from Federal Reserve officials for any clues on the outlook for interest rates.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen said late on Thursday that the U.S. economy was on "a solid course," while New York Fed President William Dudley said on Friday a cautious and gradual approach to raising rates was appropriate.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX.N) fell 3.8 percent to $34.16 after Bill Ackman said that the Canadian drugmaker would not sell Bausch and Lomb.
Gap (GPS.N) sank 14 percent to $23.82 after the company's poor same-store sales for March prompted Citigroup to cut its price target on the stock.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,274 to 725, for a 3.14-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,558 issues rose and 1,209 fell for a 1.29-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 18 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq recorded 25 new highs and 19 new lows.
(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Yashaswini Swamynathan and Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Nick Zieminski)
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