Bright earnings, home sales push market higher

Posted: April 27, 2012

NEW YORK — On a day that brought both good and bad news about the economy, investors chose to see the glass as half-full.

U.S. stocks edged higher Thursday, pushed up by a batch of bright earnings reports and encouraging news about home sales. In the fight for investors’ attention, those upbeat signs muscled out a disappointing report on unemployment claims, mixed results on European markets and weakness at big-name companies like Aetna, UPS and Dow Chemical.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 113.90 points to 13,204.62. The Standard & Poor’s 500 climbed 9.29 points to 1,399.98. The index momentarily flitted above 1,400 in the late afternoon, its first foray past that psychological barrier in three weeks. The Nasdaq composite index rose 20.98 points to 3,050.61.

The National Association of Realtors reported that the number of contracts to buy homes is rising, which pushed up the stocks of such home builders as PulteGroup and Lennar. Companies such as Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense contractor, and Starwood Hotels, which runs chains including Westin and Sheraton, climbed after beating analysts’ predictions for first-quarter earnings.

Still, investors didn’t need to look far to find problems, or at least confusion, looming on the horizon.

In the United States, the government reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits was little changed last week, stoking more uncertainty about when and if companies will return to prerecession levels of hiring.

European markets were mixed. Stock indexes rose in Germany and Britain but fell in Greece, Spain and France. Spain’s Banco Santander, which controls Sovereign Bank, reported that it set aside more money to cover bad loans, heightening concerns that Spain could join Greece, Ireland and Portugal in asking for a bailout.

U.S. companies’ earnings reports also underscored the European problem. Dow Chemical, the nation’s largest chemical maker, and UPS, the package delivery company, both fell after citing a cooling down of business in Europe.

Despite those declines, first-quarter earnings reports have been mostly positive. Of the roughly 200 companies on the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, about 80 percent have beat analysts’ forecasts, according to calculations by John Butters, senior earnings analyst at the financial data provider FactSet. That’s better than the last four quarters, which averaged about 72 percent, he said.

The last four weeks have been helter-skelter for the market, and indexes have wavered between gains and losses. The three major indexes are up for the week so far but down for the second quarter, which started at the beginning of April.

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