Stocks gain for second week, S&P is near high

NEW YORK — Stocks gained for a second straight week as company earnings reports started to come in, keeping the Standard and Poor’s 500 index within a fraction of its highest level in five years.

The S&P 500 was little changed Friday, and gained 5 points in the week to close at 1,472.05. It is a fraction below its close of 1,472.12 Thursday, its highest level since December 2007. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 17.21 to 13,488.43. The Nasdaq composite index rose 3.88 to 3,125.64.

Companies have started to report earnings for the fourth quarter of 2012, but no clear pattern has emerged as yet.

Analysts expect fourth quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies to grow at a rate of 3.3 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. That’s a better growth rate than the previous quarter, but it’s much weaker that the 8.4 percent growth rate recorded in the same period last year.

Did Microsoft give up on gadget show early?

LAS VEGAS — Microsoft may have relinquished its starring role in America’s gaudiest gadget show a year too early.

After 13 straight years in the spotlight, Microsoft’s decision to scale back its presence at this week’s International CES deprived the software maker of a prime opportunity to explain and promote a new generation of redesigned computers running its radically remade Windows operating system.

The missed chance comes at a time when Microsoft could use a bully pulpit to counter perceptions that Windows 8 isn’t compelling enough to turn the technological tide away from smartphones and tablets running software made by Apple and Google.

U.S. trade gap grows to $48.7B as imports rise

WASHINGTON — The U.S. trade deficit expanded in November to its widest point in seven months, driven by a surge in imports that outpaced only modest growth in exports.

The Commerce Department report Friday suggests trade will drag on economic growth in the October-December quarter. A wider trade gap slows growth because it means Americans spent more on foreign products while U.S. businesses earned less in overseas sales.

Still, the report showed consumers have maintained an appetite for spending. They kept buying iPhones and other imported goods in November, despite high unemployment and low wage growth.

USDA says drought cut corn crop by a fourth

DES MOINES, IOWA — The Department of Agriculture said most corn farmers didn’t fare well last year. The agency’s final report on the 2012 season showed growers harvested 10.78 billion bushels of corn, less than three-fourths of what it predicted last spring.

While the report covers many other crops, much of the attention has been on corn, which is widely used as an ingredient in many foods, provides feed for livestock and is mixed with gasoline as ethanol. The crop also was the hardest hit by the drought that settled in just as the plants were maturing.

Merck tells doctors to stop prescribing Tredaptive

NEW YORK — Drugmaker Merck & Co. is suspending its sale of the cholesterol drug Tredaptive after initial results from a study showed that it wasn’t effective and could raise the risk of some serious side effects.

The company said Friday it is telling doctors to quit prescribing the tablets, which are not approved in the U.S., and it also is advising patients to stop taking the medication only after talking to a physician. The drug is sold in about 40 countries. A spokeswoman said Friday it will take a few months to implement the suspension worldwide.

Wire reports