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US stocks inch higher after a big two-day rally

By MATTHEW CRAFT

AP Business Writer NEW YORK (AP) - Major stock indexes were mostly higher on Friday as the market comes off a massive two-day rally spurred by the Federal Reserve's assurance that it was in no hurry to hike interest rates. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is on pace to close with its second-best weekly gain this year.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was up three points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,064 as of 12:15 p.m. Eastern time, extending its weekly gain to 3.1 percent. The Nasdaq composite edged picked up six points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,755. The Dow Jones industrial average was down nine points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,770. The Dow surged 421 points on Thursday, its biggest jump in three years.

SWOOSHED: Nike's stock dropped $3.25, or 3 percent, to $93.84, the biggest drop of any company in the Dow. The maker of athletic apparel posted results that beat Wall Street's forecasts late Thursday, but a drop in orders from Japan and developing markets in Asia overshadowed an otherwise strong quarter.

EUROLAND: Major markets were mostly flat in Europe. Germany's DAX ended unchanged and France's CAC-40 rose 0.1 percent. In the U.K., the FTSE 100 index climbed 2 percent.

TURNAROUND: At the start of the week, falling oil prices and the state of the world economy were the main worries. A plunge in the Russian ruble didn't help. But stock markets staged a turnaround Wednesday, when Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, said she saw no reason to hike interest rates in early 2015 and that the central bank would be "patient" in deciding when to raise rates from near zero. Her comments eased concerns that the Fed would start raising interest rates at a time when growth outside the U.S. appears to be flagging.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "The major equity markets are finishing the trading year on a positive note thanks to Janet Yellen's Christmas message," said Neil MacKinnon, global macros strategist at VTB Capital. He said that with no major economic reports coming out, the markets will soon "switch into holiday mode," as traders head off for vacations.

MORE BEATS: Quarterly results from Red Hat, an open-source software company, drove its stock up 12 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. Red Hat reported better earnings and sales than analysts had expected late Thursday. Its stock soared $7.24 to $68.74.

EARNINGS: CarMax jumped 10 percent after the used-car dealership posted a 22 percent surge in its quarterly profits thanks to higher sales. The company's results beat analysts' estimates, sending the stock up $5.79 to $66.31.

ASIA'S DAY: Asian markets pushed higher in the wake of the big gains posted in Europe and the U.S. on Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 2.4 percent, while South Korea's Kospi added 1.7 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 1.3 percent.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude bounced up from recent lows, climbing $1.81 to $56.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude oil prices had fallen by nearly half since June, when it hit a peak of $107, a result of rising supply and weakening demand.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose, nudging yields down. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.17 percent.

CURRENCIES: There was little action in foreign exchange markets, The euro was flat at $1.2273 and the dollar rose 0.2 percent to 119.17 yen.

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