Rising oil prices helped push the stock market mostly higher on Tuesday, but the gains were tiny as investors weighed a mix of encouraging and disappointing earnings reports.
Stocks fell shortly after the open, then headed mostly higher along with the price of oil. Chevron led the Dow Jones industrial average higher with a 2.2 percent gain.
A jump in JPMorgan Chase after the bank reported strong first-quarter earnings also helped push the blue-chip index higher. Wells Fargo slumped after reporting that its earnings had fallen.
The Dow Jones rose 59.66 points, or 0.3 percent, to 18,036.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 climbed 3.41 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,095.84. The Nasdaq composite fell 10.96 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,977.29.
Stocks have generally been rising this year, but the gains have been modest as several factors from labor strife at West Coast ports, bad weather, a slump in oil prices and a strengthening dollar have dug into earnings. A stronger currency makes profits earned overseas by U.S. multinationals worth less when translated back to dollars.
Companies in the S&P 500 are expected to report a 3.5 percent slump in earnings per share in the first quarter, according to S&P Capital IQ. That would be the first quarterly drop since the U.S. was climbing out of recession in 2009.
Many financial analysts and stock strategists are shrugging off the profit hit as temporary. But not everyone is convinced, says LPL Financial economist John Canally, and worry is beginning to creep in.
“What will be the further impact of the strong dollar? If you're an energy company, what do you do if oil prices don't rise? There are no answers yet,” said Canally. “And that uncertainly is what markets don't like and so trading is choppy.”
The impact of stronger dollar was seen in Johnson & Johnson's results released Tuesday. The company said a stronger dollar was partly to blame for an 8.6 percent drop in its first-quarter profit. The company also cut its full-year profit forecast. Shares fell three cents to $100.52.
Investors will have more results to mull over in the coming days. Bank of America, Delta Air Lines and Netflix report on Wednesday, giant money manager BlackRock and Goldman Sachs on Thursday and General Electric and IBM on Friday.
In total, 35 members of the S&P 500 are expected to report this week.
In economic news, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 0.9 percent last month, after declining 0.5 percent in February. The rebound suggests that shoppers are returning after an unseasonably cold winter froze sales.
But the rise was less than economists had expected, and it follows other indicators that the U.S. economic growth is slowing. A jobs report released earlier this month showed that hiring had slowed dramatically in the March.
“It's remarkable that we've had relatively weak economic data but the market has held up,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. He added, “Investors are willing to look through that.”
Among stocks making moves:
— JPMorgan Chase gained 97 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $63.04 after reporting earnings rose 11 percent in the first quarter. The nation's largest bank by assets was helped by strong results in its currency, commodities and fixed-income trading businesses.
— Norfolk Southern slumped 4.2 percent after forecasting disappointing first-quarter results after the close of trading on Monday. It said demand for coal shipments for export fell. Shares dropped $4.38 to $100.49. The railroad company reports results on April 29.
— Wells Fargo fell 40 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $54.19 after reporting first-quarter earnings fell slightly from the same period a year earlier. Gains from trading and mortgages were offset by lower income from other sources, such as card fees and deposit service charges.
— Avon Products surged 14 percent after The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with matter, reported that the beauty company is considering “strategic alternatives” that could include selling its North American business. Shares rose $1.14 to $9.15.
The rise in oil Tuesday came on indications that U.S. oil production in places like North Dakota is beginning to slip as a result of a sharp pullback in drilling activity in recent months. Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.38 to close at $53.29 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 50 cents to close at $58.43 in London.
In other futures trading on the NYMEX:
— Wholesale gasoline rose 3.1 cents to close at $1.836 a gallon.
— Heating oil rose 1.9 cents to close at $1.802 a gallon.
— Natural gas rose 1.9 cents to close at $2.530 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In currency markets, the dollar slipped to 119.37 yen from 120.32 yen. The euro rose to $1.0655 from $1.0597.
Gold fell $6.70 to $1,192.60 an ounce, silver fell 13 cents to $16.16 an ounce and copper fell two cents to $2.70 a pound.
Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.89 percent from 1.93 percent late Monday.