U.S. Treasuries edged higher after weak consumer sentiment and retail sales data bolstered the view that Fed policymakers will slow an exit from its $85 billion a month bond-buying program designed to boost American economic growth.
U.S. consumer confidence ebbed early this month and retail sales advanced just slightly in August, the latest indications of an economy barely chugging ahead.
The sluggish pace of activity was underscored by another report on Friday showing an energy-led rise in wholesale prices last month, with underlying inflation pressures subdued. The soft data was unlikely to deter the Fed from cutting its massive bond-buying as early as next week, analysts said.
Stocks on Wall Street moved higher, putting the benchmark S&P 500 on track for its largest weekly gain in two months. "The market is up slightly today but everybody seems to be worried about what the tapering is going to be," said Brian Amidei, managing director at High Tower Advisors in Palm Desert, California.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 69.24 points, or 0.45 percent, at 15,369.88. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index . SPX was up 4.10 points, or 0.24 percent, at 1,687.52. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was up 4.59 points, or 0.12 percent, at 3,720.56.
U.S. stocks will remain range-bound until resolution of next week's Fed meeting, the ongoing U.S.-Russian talks on Syria and the looming fiscal crisis in Washington, said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis.
"The data coming out is too good to allow (the market) to fall very far," but there is little clarity to help push it much higher, Paulsen said.
Bond prices sold off overnight and the dollar staged a rally on a report in Japan's Nikkei business daily that former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers would soon be named the Fed's new chief to replace Ben Bernanke.
While traders had doubts about the source of the report, analysts said the market reaction highlighted the sensitivity of investors to the possibility of Summers taking over the Fed. Investors say Summers might tighten monetary policy faster than the other main candidate, Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen.
Asked about the Nikkei story, a White House spokeswoman said Obama had not made his decision about the Fed job. MSCI's measure of global shares .MIWD00000PUS rose 0.05 percent and its emerging markets index . MSCIEF fell 0.4 percent.
European equities advanced for a second straight week and set a 3-1/2-month high, with merger and acquisition activity in the healthcare and media sectors underpinning the market. The FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 leading European shares rose 0.24 percent to close at 1,250.26.
Gold fell 1 percent on Friday and almost 6 percent for the week, its biggest weekly loss since the second to last week of June.
U.S. gold futures for December settled down $22 at $1,308.60 an ounce.
Spot gold last traded just below break-even at $1,318.86 an ounce.
"As tensions with Syria cool down, the risk premium that had quickly pushed the gold market sharply higher is now being taken off very quickly," said Sean McGillivray, head of asset allocation at Great Pacific Wealth Management.
The dollar weakened against the euro and yen, while the yield on benchmark Treasuries fell, as investors adjusted positions ahead of the Fed meeting. The dollar was down 0.01 percent against a basket of major currencies .DXY and while 10-year U.S. Treasury yields fell to 2.8921 percent, up 3/32 in price.
"In the coming months, given that the new Fed chairman starts in January, the Summers effect, if it is announced, could be as dominant" as the Fed's tapering decision, said Mike Gallagher, managing director of IDEAglobal.
Gallagher said of a Fed tapering decision and the prospect of Summers becoming chairman could set 10-year Treasury yields on a course toward 3.5 percent by year's end. Such a move would hit other markets hard, as others expect the benchmark 10-year yield, which moves inversely to the price of the bond, to remain around 3 percent.
A successful Summers nomination is far from certain, and any appointment must be approved by the U.S. Senate. Brent crude prices rebounded late in the session as uncertainty over U.S.-Russian negotiations over Syria's chemical weapons put investors back on edge.
The Brent crude futures contract for October, which expires on Friday, rose 15 cents to settle at $112.78 a barrel, and U.S. crude settled down 39 cents at $108.21 a barrel.