The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 61.66 points to 13,390.51, its first gain of the week. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 3.87 points to 1,461.02, and the Nasdaq composite rose 14 to 3,105.81.
Having rallied after a last-minute resolution stopped the U.S. from going over the “fiscal cliff,” stocks are facing their first big challenge of the year as companies start to report earnings for the fourth quarter of 2012. Throughout last year, analysts cut their outlook for earnings growth in the period and now expect them to rise by 3.21 percent, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.
“Maybe earnings expectations were a little too low,” said Ryan Detrick, a strategist at Schaeffer’s Investment Research. “You don’t need to have great earnings, you just need to beat those expectations” for stocks to rally, Detrick said.
Early indications were decent. Aluminum maker Alcoa reported late Tuesday that it swung to a profit for the fourth quarter, with earnings that met Wall Street’s expectations. The company brought in more revenue than analysts had expected, and the company also predicted rising demand for aluminum this year as the aerospace industry gains strength. Alcoa is usually the first Dow component to report earnings every quarter.
Despite the better revenue number, Alcoa’s stock performance Wednesday was lackluster. It traded higher for part of the day then ended down 2 cents at $9.08.
Other companies fared better after reporting earnings. Helen of Troy, which sells personal care products under brands including Dr. Scholl’s and Vidal Sassoon, rose 2.7 percent, up 90 cents to $34.43 after reporting a 15 percent increase in quarterly net income.
Boeing was the biggest gainer of the 30 stocks in the Dow. It jumped 3.5 percent, up $2.63 to $76.76, following two days of sharp declines triggered by new problems for its 787 Dreamliner. Boeing said it has “extreme confidence” in the plane even as federal investigators try to determine the cause of a fire Monday aboard an empty Japan Airlines plane in Boston and a fuel leak at another JAL 787 on Tuesday.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged down to 1.86 percent from 1.87 percent.
Among other stocks making big moves:
— Wireless network operator Clearwire jumped 7.2 percent, or 21 cents, to $3.13, after Dish network made an unsolicited offer to buy the company, which has already agreed to sell itself to Sprint. Dish rose 88 cents to $36.85, and Sprint fell 9 cents to $5.88.
— Online education company Apollo Group plunged 7.8 percent after reporting a sharp decline in fall-term student sign-ups at the University of Phoenix. The stock fell $1.63 to $19.32.
— Seagate Technology, a maker of hard-disk drives, jumped 6.6 percent, up $2.09 to $33.48, after predicting revenue for its fiscal second quarter that topped Wall Street expectations late Tuesday.
— Bank of America fell 4.6 percent, down 55 cents to $11.43, after Credit Suisse analysts lowered their outlook on the bank to “neutral” for “outperform,” saying the current stock price overestimates the improvement in cost reduction that the bank can achieve this year.