Stocks rally, lifted by company earnings

U.S. stocks climbed Thursday as industrial companies, banks, technology and materials firms and energy companies all rallied. A strong day of corporate results left investors feeling better about the economy.

For more than a week, investors have been poring through company earnings for signs the economy is growing at a faster pace, and Thursday they believed they found them. Railroad operator CSX gave transportation companies a big boost; Sherwin-Williams raised its annual projections, lifting makers of basic materials.

It's still early in this round of earnings reports and a few high-profile companies have disappointed Wall Street this week, so stocks have wobbled recently. But for the most part experts and investors are encouraged by what they're hearing. They say companies feel good about the economy and expect stronger growth and bigger profits.

“The major takeaway so far [this] earnings season is the CEOs are still saying we're poised for growth,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Last quarter was sort of the first time we heard this theme.”

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 17.67 points, or 0.8%, to 2,355.84. The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 174.22 points, or 0.9%, to 20,578.81.

The Nasdaq composite climbed 53.74 points, or 0.9%, to an all-time high of 5,916.78. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks jumped 17.02 points, or 1.2%, to 1,384.15.

American Express jumped 5.9% to $80.02 after saying it had a solid first quarter as its credit card members spent more and kept bigger balances on their cards. SLM, the parent of the student lender Sallie Mae, leaped 10.1% to $12.70 after posting much stronger revenue than expected. Citizens Financial rose 3.1% to $35.27 after its report.

“The banks are the shining star” so far, Kinahan said, although he speculated that Goldman Sachs had a down quarter because it has lost several top executives to the Trump administration.

Railroad company CSX jumped 5.6% to $49.58 after it announced a bigger profit and more revenue than Wall Street expected in the first quarter. CSX also said restructuring and spending cuts will increase its profit by about 25% this year. The company is cutting jobs and reorganizing after it hired Hunter Harrison, former head of Canadian Pacific, as its CEO last month. It also said it will buy back more stock and raise its dividend.

Railroads and transportation companies such as trucking firms and airlines rose. Industrial companies were among the top performers Thursday.

Sherwin-Williams raised its profit guidance for the year as paint sales jumped and prices increased. The stock, which climbed 4% to $324.02, helped basic materials companies. So did steel maker Nucor, which rose 4.7% to $60.35 after its first-quarter results were stronger than expected.

Verizon fell 1.1% to $48.41 after saying that it lost wireless cellphone subscribers and that its profit dropped 20%. That helped push other telecom companies lower.

Other stocks that pay big dividends — such as utilities, companies that make and sell household goods, and real estate investment trusts — declined as rising bond yields made the stocks less appealing to investors who are seeking income.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.23% from 2.22%.

Ocwen Financial plunged 53.9% to $2.49 in heavy trading after state and federal authorities sued the mortgage lender, saying it botched the handling of millions of accounts. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Ocwen generated errors in borrowers' accounts, failed to credit payments, illegally foreclosed on homeowners and charged borrowers for products without their consent. Ocwen is one of the nation's largest non-bank mortgage lenders, focusing mostly on subprime and delinquent mortgages.

Read more: Mortgage servicer Ocwen botched loans so badly, its own exec called its system a train wreck, CPFB says »

Equipment rental company United Rentals flopped 5.2% to $113.24 after its sales fell far short of expectations. The company said rental rates are still somewhat weak.

Energy prices wobbled and finished down. Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 17 cents to $50.27 a barrel while Brent crude, the international standard, rose 6 cents to $52.99 a barrel. However, energy companies climbed. They had stumbled Wednesday as the price of U.S. crude sank 3.8%.

Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.67 a gallon. Heating oil was flat at $1.58 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.16 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose 40 cents to $1,283.80 an ounce. Silver fell 14 cents to $18.02 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to $2.54 a pound.

The dollar rose to 109.31 yen from 108.70 yen. The euro inched up to $1.0722 from $1.0721.

Paris' CAC 40 jumped 1.5% as traders bet on a growing likelihood of a victory for centrist Emmanuel Macron in the upcoming presidential election. Polls have long shown a tight race among four candidates; the first round of voting is Sunday.

The DAX in Germany and the FTSE 100 of Britain each rose 0.1%. The benchmark Nikkei 225 in Japan finished little changed and the Kospi in South Korea rose 0.5%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index climbed 0.9%.


UPDATES:

2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comments.

This article was originally published at 9:25 a.m.

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