Stocks close unchanged as positives balance negatives

Stocks closed largely unchanged as investors balance positive signs for the U.S. economy with a looming deadline for a key Congressional committee. Steep declines earlier in the week gave the S&P 500 its worst week since September.

The Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators rose more than analysts were expecting, a sign that the economy may pick up in the coming months. Investors remained cautious as Congress remains deadlocked on the U.S. deficit.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 25 points, or 0.2 percent, to 11,796 Friday. The S&P 500 fell less than a point to 1,216. The Nasdaq lost 15, or 0.6 percent, to 2,573.

Four stocks rose for every three that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was light at 3.6 billion shares.

McDonald’s drops its egg supplier after cruelty claim

McDonald’s Corp. said Friday it has dropped a Minnesota-based egg supplier after an animal rights group released an undercover video of operations at the egg producer’s farms in three states.

The video by Mercy for Animals shows what the group calls animal cruelty at five Sparboe Farms facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. Its images include a worker swinging a bird around by its feet, hens packed into cramped cages, male chicks being tossed into plastic bags to suffocate and workers cutting off the tips of chick’s beaks.

“The behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald’s wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers,” Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president for sustainability, said in a statement.

The move also followed a warning letter to Sparboe Farms dated Wednesday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that said inspectors found “serious violations” at five Sparboe facilities of federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella. The warning said eggs from those facilities “have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.”

Sediment clogs Mississippi, halting barges near St. Louis

Barge traffic on the Mississippi River is at a standstill in both directions near St. Louis as crews scramble to clear sediment that’s clogging the waterway.

Barges were lined up in a holding pattern near downtown St. Louis at midday Friday. They were expected to spend the night there as dredging efforts continued.

Mike Petersen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that sediment clearing would be suspended Saturday long enough for the cargo-loaded vessels to clear. The buildup is being blamed on strong crosscurrents caused by recent accidents on the river. Petersen says those currents also complicate dredging.

Any prolonged closure could create a backlog of shipping barges and slow commerce. The river is a major artery for moving coal, grain, ore, gravel, auto parts and other products.

— From news service reports