Stocks swung higher at the session's half as the major indexes shook off early weakness on continued concern over Europe's debt crisis. In the U.S., shoppers were out in force as retailers - which had jockeyed throughout December to open earlier than one another - are expected to log sales gains for "Black Friday".
Today's session ends at 1 PM EST.
The day known as "Black Friday," which kicks off the holiday shopping season, began as early as Thanksgiving night for some stores. The National Retail Federation expects 152 million people to hit stores this weekend, up 10.1% from last year.
Retail executives and analysts are predicting a more competitive season than 2010 although the U.S. unemployment rate remains at 9% and stock market volatility stemming from European debt woes is weighing on consumer sentiment.
Overseas, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to institute a plan to change the EU's treaties in an effort to rebuild trust in the monetary union. However, investors met this development with skepticism, not optimism.
The Italian government sold 8 billion euros ($10.7 billion) of six-month Treasury bills, producing an average yield of 6.50%, up from 3.54% in an Oct. 26 sale. The increased yield reinforced concerns that the spread of the debt crisis may make it very difficult for Italy to meet its funding needs.
Yields have fallen significantly this week, amid the ongoing turmoil in Europe, but this has not alleviated concerns of debt contagion in the euro-zone. The poorly-received auction of German government bonds earlier this week underlined fears the region's debt crisis could overwhelm the core of the euro-zone.
Commodities are mixed as January gold contracts are down 0.1% to $1,697 an ounce while January crude oil contacts are up 0.76% to $96.90 a barrel.
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