NEW YORK: The stock market struggled for direction Friday morning. A quiet day for U.S. corporate earnings and the prospect of a holiday weekend calmed some of the volatility that has hobbled the market recently.
But concerns about Greece, which could be hurtling toward an exit from the euro, kept any gains in check.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 32 points to 12,498 in early trading. The Dow has been on a steady slide this month, giving up most of its gains for the year. It's headed for its first losing month since September.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index and the Nasdaq composite index flitted between small gains and losses. About 40 minutes after the market opened, the S&P 500 was basically flat at 1,321. The Nasdaq was down a point to 2,839.
Trading was muted ahead of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday.
Facebook, marking its one week anniversary as a public company, fell 3% to US$32.06, still about 16% below its initial pricing of US$38.
Investors have worried about what will happen if Greece leaves the euro, and major markets were down in France, Britain, Germany, Greece and Spain. It's impossible to gauge the exact fallout, but it's likely that traders would dump the bonds of other struggling European countries, such as Spain and Italy, and residents could start to pull money out of banks there.
European leaders are arguing over how to cut the profligate spending of struggling countries without throwing the region further into recession. The messages emanating from Europe were mixed.
The head of Germany's central bank said it was an "illusion" to think allowing euro zone countries to borrow money jointly - a proposal pushed by other countries - would solve the crisis.
A top official from the European Central Bank said that the 17 countries that use the euro need an "urgent overhaul" to their structure, including a banking regulator and deposit insurance program that could cover the entire Eurozone.
The parliament of Portugal, which has been pushed close to bankruptcy, endorsed a budget plan that would set legal limits on government spending. Spain's market regulator suspended trading of shares in Bankia, a bailed-out bank that is preparing to ask for even more rescue money from the government.
Markets were rattled in Asia as well. Taiwan lowered its economic growth forecast for the year.
Media reports suggested that some of China's biggest banks will miss their annual lending targets for the first time in seven years. China, the world's second-largest economy, has propped up global financial markets in recent years as other countries have slowed.
Caterpillar, which relies heavily on demand from China, fell 1%, the most on the Dow. (AP/aph)
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