Wednesday, April 24, 2013 6:12 pm
Stocks little changed after mixed earnings
By STEVE ROTHWELLAP Markets Writer
The Dow closed down 43.16 points, or 0.3 percent, at 14,676.30. The Standard & Poor's 500 index - the market's most widely used barometer -was flat at 1,578.79.
In other markets, the price of oil soared, posting its biggest gain this year. The price of gold and the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury rose.
The Dow was held back by big drops in Procter & Gamble and AT&T. P&G issued a weak quarterly profit forecast and AT&T lost subscribers from its contract-based plans for the first time.
But other companies impressed investors and boosted their stock prices with strong quarterly earnings: Defense contractor General Dynamics and airplane maker Boeing easily beat expectations from financial analysts.
While the majority of corporations have delivered profits that were better than expected in the first quarter, their revenue hasn't been as impressive, suggesting they are struggling to grow.
"Overall, the earnings environment is very lackluster, for want of a better word," said Robbert van Batenburg, director of market strategy at Newedge.
P&G, the maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors, dropped $4.82, or 5.1 percent, to $77.12 after its forecast came in below what financial analysts were expecting. P&G was hurt by uneven demand for new products.
AT&T dropped $1.96, or 5.2 percent, to $37.04 after it lost phone subscribers from its contract-based plans in its latest quarter. It's a sign that industry growth is slowing now that most American have smartphones.
General Dynamics, the aerospace and defense company, jumped $4.62, or 6.9 percent, to $71.73. CEO Phebe Novakovic called the quarter's results a "strong start" to achieving the company's goals this year, saying they reflected its focus on cuttings costs and generating cash.
Boeing climbed $2.65, or 3 percent, to $90.83 after the airplane maker said its first-quarter net income rose 20 percent despite problems with the 787 Dreamliner. The company said it would meet its financial and airplane delivery goals this year.
So far, 175 of the companies in the S&P 500, or 35 percent, have reported quarterly earnings and two-thirds of the Dow's 30 members have reported.
Sixty-nine percent of companies in the S&P 500 have beaten profit expectations, better than the 10-year average of 62 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. However, only 39 percent have beaten revenue forecasts.
Looking ahead, the outlook dims. Of the 35 companies that have given earnings forecasts for the second quarter, 28 have been "negative," according to S&P Capital IQ, with only four "positive" and three "in-line."
"We think that most managements are appropriately cautious in their outlooks, because it's very possible that the second-quarter will continue to slow," said Jim Russell, a regional investment director at U.S. Bank. "We're watching with cautious optimism that this is a second-quarter-only soft patch in the economic data."
A report Wednesday that orders for long-lasting U.S. factory goods fell more than economists expected added to concerns that global growth is slowing.
The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods declined 5.7 percent in March following a 4.3 percent gain the previous month. February's figure was also revised lower.
The Nasdaq composite edged up 0.32 point at 3,269.55. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks fared better. It rose 0.5 percent, or 4.75 points, to 934.11.
Last week, stocks logged their biggest weekly drop in five months after growth in China, the world's second-biggest economy, slowed and commodity prices plunged. Weaker hiring and manufacturing growth in the U.S. have also weighed on the stock market.
The Dow and S&P 500 reached record highs on April 11, but their gains have slowed sharply since then. The Dow is up just 0.7 percent this month while the S&P 500 has gained 0.6 percent.
During the first three months of the year, the indexes averaged monthly gains of more than 3 percent, driven by optimism that the housing and job markets were recovering and that company earnings would continue to climb.
Companies made money in the first quarter, however, and are on track to increase their earnings by an average of almost 3 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ.
"Overall, I'm really quite comforted," said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds. "It's not an easy environment in which to make money, but companies are finding ways in which to hold costs in line and grow earnings."
Crude oil rose $2.25 to finish at $91.43 a barrel as U.S. supplies rose less than expected last week. Gold for June delivery rose $14.90 to $1,423.70 an ounce.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.71 percent from 1.70. The yield fell to 1.69 percent last week, close to its lowest of the year.