NEW YORK – It took a while, but the Dow Jones industrial average finally gained back all its losses for the month.
On a day of conflicting signals, as investors weighed disappointing economic news against reports of higher profits at big companies, stocks inched higher. All three major indexes were up Friday, though barely.
The Dow climbed 23.69 points to 13,228.31, a tiny 0.2 percent gain. That was enough to push the index into the black for April. It's now 16 points higher than where it began the month.
The Standard & Poor's 500 edged up 3.38 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,403.36. The Nasdaq composite rose 18.59 points, or 0.6 percent, to 3,069.20.
Amazon jumped 16 percent after the online retailer reported a big increase in shipments. Online travel agency Expedia Inc. surged 24 percent on higher profits from its hotel-booking business.
Companies in the S&P 500 are now on track to report a 6 percent rise in earnings for the first three months of 2012 compared with a year ago, according to FactSet, a financial data provider. Last month, Wall Street analysts had expected earnings this quarter to be flat.
The stock gains Friday came despite a government report earlier in the day that the U.S. economy grew at annual rate of 2.2 percent, below the 2.5 percent that economist had expected. It grew at a faster rate, 3 percent, in the final three months of 2011.
David Rosenberg, chief economist at money manager Gluskin Sheff, said investors may have bid up stocks on the weaker report because they now think the Federal Reserve is more likely to embark on another round of bond buying to stimulate the economy.
"(Fed Chairman) Ben Bernanke has created the impression that if the economy stumbles, he'll be there to hold your hand," he said.
European stock markets also rose as investors shrugged off a second downgrade this year by S&P of Spain's debt. Spain also reported its unemployment rate rose to nearly 25 percent, its highest in 18 years.
Spain's IBEX rose 1.7 percent, France's CAC-40 1.1 percent and Germany's DAX 0.9 percent.
However the yields on Spanish and Italian government bonds rose, a sign that investors are still uneasy about the ability of those countries to service their debt. The yield on Spain's benchmark 10-year bond rose 0.08 percentage point to 5.87 percent. Italy's 10-year yield rose 0.11 point to 5.64 percent.
The Dow hit its high for the year on April 2. It fell fast soon after, then bounced around. With Friday's gain, the index is now just 36 points away from that level.
In corporate news, Procter & Gamble fell 4 percent after the consumer products giant reported a 16 percent profit slump for the first three months of the year on higher costs for raw materials and restructuring charges. The maker of Bounty paper towels and Luv diapers said it would be rolling back price increases on some products where it was losing market share. It also lowered earnings forecasts for the year.
Starbucks slid 5 percent after the coffee company reported a slowdown of sales in Europe.
For the week, the Dow is up 1.5 percent, the S&P 500 is up 1.8 percent and the Nasdaq is up 2.3 percent.