The S&P 500 fell two points to 1,470 as of 1:18 p.m. Eastern. It closed at 1,472 Thursday, its highest level since December 2007. The Dow Jones industrial average rose fell a point to 13,470. The Nasdaq composite index dropped two points to 3,119.
Fourth-quarter earnings reports started coming in this week, but investors don’t yet have a clear picture on the outlook for U.S. companies. While Wells Fargo disappointed the markets, aluminum company Alcoa gave stocks a lift earlier in the week after it matched analysts’ expectations and said that demand was increasing.
Currently, analysts expect fourth quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. That compares with a growth rate of 8.4 percent for the same period last year.
“You’ve been hearing comments that earnings season is going to show a continued contraction in the rate of growth,” said Robert Pavlik of Banyan Partners. “People are conflicted, they are worried, but at the same time they don’t want to be missing out on the action in the overall market.”
Wells Fargo, the first major bank to report earnings, dropped even after the bank reported a 25 percent increase in fourth-quarter earnings, as analysts questioned the sustainability of the banks’ profits and fretted about slower mortgage lending. The bank’s stock fell 44 cents to $34.95.
JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, U.S. Bancorp, Citigroup and Bank of America are among financial companies that are reporting fourth-quarter earnings next week. Financial stocks were the best performing industry group in the S&P 500 last year, gaining 26 percent. Other companies reporting earnings next week include eBay and Intel.
Boeing fell $1.99 to $75.10 after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it is launching a comprehensive review of the critical systems of Boeing’s 787, the aircraft maker’s newest and most technologically advanced plane, after a fire and a fuel leak earlier this week.
The stock market got a boost Thursday from reports suggesting the outlook for economic growth may be improving both in Europe and China.
Stocks are on track to end the week higher and are up on the year after lawmakers came up with a last-minute deal to prevent the U.S. from going over the “fiscal cliff,” averting the threat of a series of tax hikes and spending cuts that economists say would almost certainly have pushed the U.S. economy into recession.
Avoiding the “cliff” will likely have boosted consumer confidence, said Chris Kichurchak, vice president at Strategic Wealth Partners. That improving sentiment, combined with a strengthening housing market, should prove favorable to so-called cyclical companies that move in line with the economy.
“There are a lot of people who were holding out on spending,” before a budget deal was struck, said Kichurchak.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite to the security’s price, fell 1 basis point to 1.89 percent.
Other stocks making big moves;
— American Express rose 38 cents to $61.18 after the company said that spending by cardholders jumped 8 percent in the fourth quarter, even after Superstorm Sandy crimped some buying.
— Best Buy jumped $1.48 to $13.69 after the struggling consumer electronics chain reported holiday sales. The company’s U.S. performance was flat and, while this was a hair below the 0.3 percent increase Best Buy reported in the prior-year period, it was an improvement over the past several quarters.
— Ford rose 13 cents to $13.69. The company said demand for new vehicles is accelerating in the U.S. Ford plans to hire 2,200 engineers, computer programmers and other white-collar workers this year. The automaker said Thursday it was raising its dividend.
— Corning fell 37 cents to $12.28 after Goldman Sachs removed cut its rating on the specialty glass manufacturer to “neutral” from “buy,” saying that it expected first quarter sales to decline more than previously expected.