The S&P 500 Index (^GSPC -0.78%) was on track to close higher for most of the trading session on Friday. But a last-hour sell-off left the index at breakeven for the day, with 270 stocks moving higher, and 233 that closed down or even.

Today's biggest gainer was General Electric (GE 1.36%), up almost 6% on several positive pieces of news, including word that the Boeing (BA -2.49%) 737 MAX (which features engines made by GE) was deemed safe by European regulators. 

Oil stocks were by and large today's worst performers. The Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE 0.18%), which tracks the oil and gas stocks in the S&P 500, fell 2.4%. Schlumberger (SLB -0.37%) was one of the worst of the group, falling 8.8% after reporting a loss in the third quarter, while shares of fellow oil services giant Halliburton (HAL 0.22%) fell 6.3%, too. All told, 15 of today's 20 worst S&P performers operate in the oil patch. 

Black woman with mask on phone.

Image source: Getty Images.

Boeing's good news signals GE investors that things are looking up

Beleaguered aerospace giant Boeing has finally started to get some good news after a brutal year and change. European regulators are taking the final steps to declare the 737 MAX narrow-body passenger jet airworthy next month, giving it the go-ahead to return to commercial operations. Boeing shares gained about 2.5% on the day following the news, while shares of GE gained more than 6%. 

GE's move higher was partly related to the good news that the 737 MAX, which features two GE-made turbine engines, is returning to operation in Europe. But it was also a reaction to multiple analyst upgrades and updates on GE stock, along with word that Sudan has signed a deal to deploy "up to" 470 megawatts of GE mobile gas turbine generators, worth upward of $3 billion for the industrial conglomerate. 

Both the Sudan deal and 737 MAX news are positives for GE, but neither are likely to substantively boost its bottom line anytime soon. 

Another bad day in the oil patch

2020 continues to be brutal for the oil industry. Oil prices fell slightly today, but the bigger news affecting the industry is the climb in coronavirus cases around the world, potentially putting the oil recovery at risk of going backwards. More than 20 U.S. states are reporting increased cases, as are a number of European countries that had been trending lower over much of the summer.

It's a growing threat to the recovery of oil demand, which still has global consumption down close to 10% below 2019 levels. On top of this is the challenge from petroleum states in the OPEC+ group that have started to ease production limits, and could do so again in the near future. Libya, which has been exempt from the output limitations, has increased its oil production by 500,000 barrels per day over the past month, while U.S. producers put another 12 oil drilling rigs back in operation last week. 

In response to the growing pressure on both demand and supply, a number of U.S. oil producer stocks fell today, including Devon Energy, Occidental PetroleumMarathon Oil, and Diamondback Energy, all down between 4% and 5%. 

Looking ahead

Next week, consumer-focused companies including Procter & GambleNetflixVerizon Communications, and Coca-Cola will report quarterly earnings, adding a little more insight into the state of the economy, and what their management expects to see in the months ahead. 

Whatever the outcome of their reports, volatility tends to ramp up during earnings season. So it's time to buckle up and remember to stay focused on the bigger picture, and not get too distracted by the daily noise, or the churn-and-burn news cycle chasing the next big headline. Tune back in here for a closer look once your favorite companies report their results.