Wall Street little changed ahead of earnings wave

Sinéad Carew, Reuters

Posted at Apr 23 2019 08:09 AM

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, US. Brendan McDermid, Reuters/File

NEW YORK -- US stocks ended a low-volume trading session little changed on Monday, with the biggest gains in the energy sector as investors otherwise stayed on the sidelines ahead of quarterly earnings.

Investors were waiting for some of the biggest S&P 500 companies, including Boeing Co, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc to report first-quarter results later in the week. Additional reports could ease investor fears of an earnings recession.

Trading volume - which was the lowest so far in 2019 - was also muted by the fact that some investors were still on vacation after Friday's U.S. market holiday and because markets were closed in parts of Europe and Asia on Monday.

Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist, at Federated Investors, in New York said he has been encouraged by quarterly results even though it was early in the reporting season.

"To some degree it could be some concern because we know it's a big earnings week. What will the overall tenor of this week look like by Friday?" said Orlando.

Orlando was impressed with the latest GDPNow forecast from the Atlanta Federal Reserve for a first-quarter expansion of 2.8 percent compared with a 0.2 percent forecast a month ago.

"That tells you the data has turned around and maybe earnings aren't going to be so bad," he said.

S&P 500 profits are expected to drop 1.7 percent year-over-year, according to Refinitiv data, in what would be the first earnings contraction since 2016.

But more than three-quarters of 82 S&P 500 companies that have reported so far have surpassed beaten-down expectations.

With the S&P trading at less than 1 percent below its record high reached in September, investors were also waiting for upcoming data such as first-quarter GDP before making bigger bets.

"It's important at this point to sit back and reflect on what the prospects are that will take us forward. It's appropriate to see what we're seeing today," Ryan Larson, head of U.S. equity trading at RBC Global Asset Management in Chicago.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 48.49 points, or 0.18 percent, to 26,511.05, the S&P 500 gained 2.94 points, or 0.10 percent, to 2,907.97 and the Nasdaq Composite added 17.21 points, or 0.22 percent, to 8,015.27.

The S&P energy index jumped 2.1 percent in its biggest one-day percentage gain since January, as oil prices surged on the United States' move to further clampdown on Iranian oil exports, tightening global supplies.

But seven of the 11 major S&P sectors ended the day lower, led by a 1 percent drop in the real estate index.

Intuitive Surgical Inc fell 7 percent and was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 after the surgical robotics maker's quarterly profit missed analysts' estimates.

Kimberly-Clark Corp gained 5.4 percent, touching a near two-year high, after the consumer products maker reported better-than-expected earnings.

The PHLX Housing index fell 0.97 percent after data showed US home sales fell more than expected in March, pointing to continued weakness in the housing market.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.41-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.33-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 17 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 33 new highs and 70 new lows.

On US exchanges 5.79 billion shares changed hands, compared with the 6.65 billion average for the last 20 trading days.