Wall St ends flat; Disney, retailers dip on sales worries

Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Nov 23, 2015.
Traders working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Nov 23, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stock indexes ended little changed in light trading on Friday, with consumer stocks falling as investors fretted over early reports on the US holiday shopping season and Disney's subscriber losses weighed on the market.

US stock markets closed three hours earlier following the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, with many traders taking the day off.

Trading volume was modest, with 2.79 billion shares changing hands on US exchanges, compared with the seven billion average for the previous seven sessions.

"We're going to get today over with and hit the ground running next week," said Brian Battle, director of trading at Performance Trust Capital Partners in Chicago.

Battle expects a busy start to next week as investors prepare for a Dec 4 non-farm payrolls report that may bring volatility ahead of a widely expected decision by the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates at its mid-December meeting.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 14.9 points, or 0.08 per cent, to 17,798.49, the S&P 500 gained 1.24 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 2,090.11 and the Nasdaq Composite added 11.38 points, or 0.22 per cent, to 5,127.53.

Seven out of 10 major S&P sectors rose slightly. The energy index fell 0.7 per cent as oil prices fell. Media and retailer stocks led the consumer discretionary sector's 0.4 per cent decline.

Crowds were thin at US stores and shopping malls in the early hours of Black Friday and on Thanksgiving evening as shoppers responded to early holiday discounts with caution and as bad weather hurt the turnout.

The top retail percentage decliner was Urban Outfitters with a 2.7 per cent drop, followed by a 2.5 per cent drop for Gap. Signet Jewelers, fell 1.7 per cent, as did Men's Wearhouse. DSW, Tiffany & Co and Best Buy all fell more than 1 per cent.

Big retailers Wal-Mart, JC Penney and online retail giant Amazon.com fell less than 1 per cent, while the Dow Jones US General Retailers index fell 0.15 per cent.

Thanksgiving kicks off the crucial November and December shopping season, during which retailers make between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of annual sales.

"We believe Thanksgiving shopping was a bust," analysts at Suntrust Robinson Humphrey said in a research note.

"Members of our team who went to the malls first had no problem finding parking or navigating stores."

Performance Trust's Battle, however, called Black Friday anecdotes "noise."

"What matters most is the season as a whole and not just one day when some of that business is being done online," he said.

Walt Disney, the biggest drag on the Dow and the S&P, fell 2.9 per cent after it said late on Wednesday its ESPN sports network lost three million subscribers in 2015.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,829 to 1,154, for a 1.58-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,698 issues rose and 983 fell for a 1.73-to-1 ratio favouring advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 82 new highs and 33 new lows.