Stocks edge up as wallets open

A positive report on US consumer spending helped push most stocks higher for the first time in three days.

After two days of declines, stocks were moving higher in early trading Friday following news that US consumer spending rose the most in three months in February
After two days of declines, US stocks moved higher following news that US consumer spending rose the most in three months in February

The gains were modest as investors continued to cut their holdings in biotechnology stocks, some of the best performing names of 2013. Instead, the stocks that advanced the most were mostly mature, large companies such as Microsoft, Exxon and Cisco Systems.

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 58.83 points, or 0.4%, to 16,323.06. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.58 points, or 0.5%, to 1,857.62. The Nasdaq composite, which includes a number of large biotech companies, rose just 4.53 points, or 0.1%, to 4,155.76.

The biggest gainer in the Dow was Microsoft, which rose 94 cents, or 2.4%, to 40.30 dollars. The company announced on Thursday that it was bringing Microsoft Office to the iPad and would shift its focus away from Windows, a move that analysts liked. Satya Nadella made the announcement in his first public appearance as the new leader of Microsoft.

Microsoft helped lift other large technology companies, with Cisco Systems, Intel and Oracle up roughly 1% or more.

In contrast to technology, biotechnology had another horrible day. Gilead Sciences, Biogen Idec and Vertex Pharmaceuticals were all down 4% or more.

The higher they rise, the harder they fall, investors say. Biotechnology stocks had been among the hottest sectors in the stock market for the last two years, with the S&P 500 Biotechnology index rising 74% in 2013 and 38% in 2012.

That momentum stopped dead in the month of March. The S&P 500 Biotechnology index is down 12% this month alone, erasing all of the sector's gains in January and February.

The sell-off in biotech echoes the pullback investors have seen speculative technology stocks, such as Twitter, Netflix and Tesla Motors. Those stocks are down between 14% and 20% this month alone.

Investors were encouraged by news that Americans increased their spending last month, a hopeful sign for an economy that has been slowed by months of severe winter weather. The Commerce Department said consumer spending inched up 0.3%, a hair short of economists' forecasts. Incomes rose at the same pace.

Investors will now turn their attention to next week's economic data, including the March jobs report. Economists expect the US economy, thawing from the harsh winter, created 200,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained steady at 6.6%.

In other markets, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note hovered around 2.72%, up from 2.69%. The price of crude oil edged up 39 cents, or 0.4%, to 101.67 dollars a barrel. Gold was little changed at 1,293.80 dollars an ounce.