Major U.S. stock indexes drifted slightly higher in early afternoon trading Friday, as investors monitored the brewing crisis in Ukraine and its implications on the global economy. The market appeared to get a lift after the Russian foreign minister told reporters in London that his country has no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine.
Utilities rose the most as investors sought out low-risk stocks.
KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained two points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,849 as of 12:14 p.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 27 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,136. The Nasdaq composite added three points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,264.
CRIMEA QUESTION: Traders were monitoring discussions Friday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the run-up to a referendum on Sunday in the Ukraine region of Crimea, where residents will vote on whether to break off from the rest of the country. Lavrov told reporters that Russia has no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine. Still, if Crimea secedes, the U.S. and European Union plan to slap sanctions as early as Monday on Russian officials and businesses accused of escalating the crisis and undermining Ukraine's new government.
Jim Russell, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, said the market's expectations and pricing has begun to reflect the assumption that Crimea will end up part of Russia.
"What is not known is the extent to which economic sanctions will be levied and any kind of ancillary recourse from Russia regarding the economic sanctions," Russell said. "We think the markets are going to trade very nervously, probably with a downward bias."
SEEKING PROTECTION: The VIX index, a measure of stock market volatility, was up 2 percent following an increase of 12 percent on Thursday.
"A lot of it is people are willing to pay more for protection on options going into the weekend," said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade.
SECTOR LOOK: Eight of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index posted gains, led by utilities. Technology and financials declined.
TUNING OUT: Liberty Media rose $10.61, or 8.4 percent, to $136.70. The company, which is controlled by billionaire John Malone, said late Thursday that it would drop its bid to buy the rest of the satellite radio provider Sirius XM.
FRESH BREW: Single-serve coffee machine maker Keurig Green Mountain cut a new deal with Starbucks that eliminates an exclusivity clause to give it more flexibility. Keurig jumped $9.13, or 8.6 percent, to $115.20.
RETAIL RESULTS: Aeropostale fell $1.03, or 14 percent, to $6.28 after the retailer reported a wider loss late Thursday. The operator of clothing stores for teenagers also warned of tough times ahead.
ROCKY WEEK: The three major indexes lost more than 1 percent on Thursday as growing worries about China's economy and rising tensions over Ukraine rattled investors. The slide wiped out the S&P 500 index's gain for the year.
PRICE WATCH: The Labor Department said Friday that the prices companies are paid for goods and services fell slightly in February, the latest sign of tame inflation. The producer price index, a measure of prices before they reach shoppers, dropped 0.1 percent in February. It was the first slip since November.
BONDS: The yield on the 10-year Treasury was little changed from late Thursday at 2.65 percent. The yield affects rates on mortgages and other consumer loans.
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