US stocks make tepid gains after closing down

Wall Street advanced cautiously on Friday, after all three major indices closed down on renewed fears that the novel coronavirus outbreak in China would disrupt the world economy.

Beijing had on Thursday announced a sharp rise in cases after changing its counting method, and on Friday the number of cases climbed to 64,000 with the death toll reaching nearly 1,400.

After registering losses, the markets opened cautiously on Friday, with the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining barely a percentage point to 29,397.65 after about 30 minutes of trading.

The tech-rich Nasdaq was up 0.1 percent at 9,724.0291 points, and the broad-based S&P 500 was up to 3,375.12 points, a gain of less than a tenth of a percent.

US Commerce Department data released on Friday showed steady growth in retail sales in January of 0.3 percent, but new Federal Reserve data showed a fall in industrial production of 0.3 percent driven by Boeing's production shutdown on the 737 MAX aircraft.

"Manufacturing is still stagnating," Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said in a note in which he predicted a recent agreement to ease a trade war with China wouldn't be enough to increase the sector's health.

"We had been expecting a modest first-half pick-up after the... trade deal, but the coronavirus and the seemingly endless Boeing debacle has killed that idea."

The little stock market growth was driven by better-than-expected earnings from key companies including graphics card manufacturer Nvidia, which rose by six percent, and online travel company Expedia, which was up by 10.7 percent.

With markets closed for a holiday on Monday, investors are looking forward to fourth quarter earnings from the largest private employer in the US Walmart on Tuesday.