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Stocks end higher after mixed session

A trader works on the floor of the

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during of the trading day on Wall Street on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Credit: EPA / Justin Lane

The stock market has ended slightly higher after drifting between small losses and gains for most of the day.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 46 points, or .3 percent, to 16,491. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 7 points, or .4 percent, to 1,877. The Nasdaq composite index rose 21 points, or .5 percent, to 4,090.

HOUSING MARKET: Builders started work on more houses in April, as U.S. construction surged to its highest pace in six months, according to the Commerce Department. But almost all of that increase came from new apartment buildings, a sign that Americans are still struggling to buy single-family homes.

BUFFETT BUMP: Verizon Communications was among the biggest gainers of the 30 companies in the Dow, after Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway revealed a new investment in the telecom late Thursday. Other big-name investors, including John Paulson, also reportedly took stakes. Verizon climbed $1.03, or 2 percent, to $49.01.

MORE SALES: J.C. Penney's stock jumped $1.28, or 15 percent, to $9.65. Rising sales helped the department store chain turn in better results than analysts expected late Thursday. Sales at stores open at least a year -- a key gauge of a chain's health -- increased more than 6 percent in its first quarter.

RETAIL RUN: Nordstrom surged $8.23, or 13 percent, to $69.75, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. The department store chain reported higher quarterly profits than analysts had expected late Thursday, as better sales at its discount Rack stores boosted results.

LOOK BACK: After its worst one-day drop in a month on Thursday, the S&P 500 is headed for a slight loss for the second week in a row. But that's hardly a sign of growing worry, said Dan Cook, a director at Nadex, an exchange in Chicago. Earlier in the week, the benchmark for most U.S. stock funds notched all-time highs two days in a row.

"We're so used to hitting record highs that all of a sudden two down days seem tragic," Cook said. "We're at high levels so it's a time to be cautious."

EUROPE: France's CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent, while Germany's DAX fell 0.3 percent. In the U.K., London's FTSE 100 edged up 0.2 percent.

ASIA: Japan's main index, the Nikkei, sank 1.4 percent. In China, Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.2 percent, while on the mainland, the Shanghai Composite edged up 0.1 percent.

OTHER MARKETS: U.S. government bonds barely moved, holding yields near their lows for the year. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury was 2.51 percent, up from 2.49 percent late Thursday. Gold fell $1.10 to $1,292.50 an ounce. Crude oil rose 60 cents to $102.10 a barrel.

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