* U.S. manufacturing gains offset weak overseas data
* Investors see potential stock gains despite U.S. budget
* Chesapeake shares drop after SEC escalates investigation
* Groupon rallies after CEO exits
* Dow up 0.3 pct, S&P 500 up 0.2 pct, Nasdaq up 0.3 pct
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, March 1 U.S. stocks advanced modestly
on Friday, leaving the S&P 500 with slight gains in a volatile
week as strong economic data overshadowed growth concerns in
China and Europe and let investors discount the impact of
expected U.S. government spending cuts.
Stocks opened sharply lower for the session as Asian
factories slowed and European output fell, but most of the
losses evaporated after a report showed U.S. manufacturing
activity expanded last month at its fastest clip in 20 months.
U.S. consumer sentiment also rose in February as Americans
turned more optimistic about the job market.
With $85 billion in government budget cuts set to begin,
President Barack Obama blamed Republicans for failure to reach a
compromise to avert the cuts, known as sequester. But the stock
market appeared to have already priced in the failure by
legislators to reach an agreement.
"We were able to dig out of that hole, but not make any
great strides on it either," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief
investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle,
Illinois. "We will probably be in a holding pattern pending some
big development on a broader budget deal."
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 35.17 points,
or 0.25 percent, to 14,089.66 at the close. The Standard &
Poor's 500 Index added 3.52 points, or 0.23 percent, to
1,518.20. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 9.55
points, or 0.30 percent, to 3,169.74.
For the week, the Dow rose 0.6 percent, the S&P 500 edged up
0.2 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.3 percent.
The slight gains for equities came during a volatile week
that saw markets decline on Monday after uncertain Italian
elections, only to rebound in the next two sessions as U.S.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the central
bank's stimulus measures.
The low interest rates due to the Federal Reserve's
accommodative monetary policy have helped equities continue to
attract investors. The Dow is less than 1 percent away from its
all-time intraday high of 14,198.10. Declines have been shallow
and short-lived, with investors jumping in to buy on dips.
Intuitive Surgical jumped 8.5 percent to $553.40
after Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Jeremy Feffer upgraded the
stock, saying the stock's slide of more than 11 percent on
Thursday was a gross overreaction to a news report.
Groupon Inc surged 12.6 percent to $5.10 a day
after the online coupon company fired its chief executive
officer in the wake of weak quarterly results.
Gap Inc rose 2.9 percent to $33.87 after the
clothing retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat
expectations and boosting its dividend by 20 percent, while
Salesforce.com Inc posted sales that beat forecasts,
driving its stock up 7.6 percent to $182.
Chesapeake Energy Corp fell 2.4 percent to $19.67
after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission escalated its
investigation into the company and its Chief Executive Aubrey
McClendon for a controversial perk that granted him a share in
each of the natural gas producer's wells.
Volume was modest with about 6.72 billion shares traded on
the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, slightly above
the daily average of 6.5 billion.
Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a
ratio of about 17 to 13, while on the Nasdaq, seven stocks rose
for about every five stocks that fell.