Investors Jittery Ahead of Inflation Data

Stocks were mixed Thursday ahead of key inflation data on Friday and major earnings reports next week.

Friday’s consumer price index (CPI) is expected to clock in at about a 1% gain for September, due largely to spiking energy prices from Gulf Coast hurricanes. But the core rate — which excludes food and energy prices — is expected to be up only 0.2%. Investors will have to decide which figure is the correct read on inflation.

And starting Monday, earnings season will swing into high gear. IBM , Yahoo , Intel , eBay and Google are just some of the big names reporting next week, and wholesale inflation data will come out on Tuesday.

After an early sell-off Thursday that carried the indexes to fresh multi-month lows, stocks managed to erase most of the losses in the final two hours of trading. The Nasdaq eked out a small gain, but the Dow and S&P finished down fractionally.

The Nasdaq rose 10 to 2047, the S&P 500 slipped 1 to 1177, and the Dow was down less than a point to 10,216. Volume declined to 2.33 billion shares on the NYSE, and 1.82 billion on the Nasdaq. Decliners led 21-10 on the NYSE, but advancers won by just a handful of issues on the Nasdaq. Upside volume was 42% on the NYSE, and 62% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 17-380 on the NYSE, and 29-236 on the Nasdaq.

Apple soared 9% as investors rethought the company’s disappointing results and snapped up shares on new video products and partnerships.

Lam Research surged 12% on its results, and Komag rose 4% after raising guidance.

Bell Micro plunged 25% on a warning.

Arris Group fell 7% despite raising guidance, weighed down by a downgrade.

And in a sign that accounting fraud remains alive and well in the financial markets, shares of commodity futures trading firm Refco plunged 27% on liquidity concerns before trading in the company’s shares was halted. The firm’s CEO was indicted Wednesday for allegedly hiding as much as $545 million in debt.

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