Giving up a gain, stocks close with tiny loss

Netflix soared, big corporations turned in quarterly results, and investors welcomed new companies into the market. There was plenty of news, but major indexes finished the day just short of where they started.

Stocks drifted lower at the start of trading, followed oil prices higher in the early afternoon, then flipped back to slight losses in the last hour before the closing bell.

David Lebovitz, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, said investors are trying to figure out if the recent run of uninspiring economic news will hit corporate profits. At the same time, big banks and other corporations have turned in better results than Wall Street expected this week.

“There's a bit of a tug of war right now,” Lebovitz said. “So far, it looks like the earnings season is off to a decent start.”

The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged down 1.64 points, a fraction of a percent, to 2,104.99.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 6.84 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 18,105.77, and the Nasdaq composite lost 3.23 points, also less than 0.1 percent, to 5,007.79.

Netflix said it added 4.9 million subscribers in the first three months of the year, better than any other quarter since the company started streaming video eight years ago. All told, Netflix finished March with 62 million subscribers around the world. Traders drove the company's stock up $86.59, or 18 percent, to $562.05, the biggest gain in the S&P 500.

Citigroup's quarterly net income rose as the bank trimmed expenses and legal costs, which compensated for a decline in revenue. The results beat Wall Street's estimates, sending Citi's stock up 81 cents, or 2 percent, to $54.02.

The first-quarter earnings season is supposed to be the worst in years, with analysts forecasting a 3 percent drop in earnings compared with the year before. The early results suggest things might not turn out that way. Earnings from more than seven out of 10 companies have come in higher than Wall Street's estimates, according to S&P Capital IQ.

The economic news out Thursday gave traders little direction. The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans applying for unemployment aid last week inched up for the second week in a row. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, edged up to 282,750, still close to the lowest level in nearly 15 years.

In Europe, mounting fears that Greece could default on its debts shot the country's borrowing costs higher. The latest jitters followed a report Thursday in the Financial Times that Greece made an “informal approach” to the International Monetary Fund to have its bailout repayments delayed. Many in the markets think the Greek government will struggle to make a payment due next month to the IMF if it fails to reach a deal in negotiations with European creditors.

“There seems little chance of talks being resolved,” said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital. “A debt default looms.”

European stock markets fell. Germany's DAX dropped 1.9 percent and France's CAC 40 lost 0.6 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 slid 0.5 percent.

Back in the U.S., Etsy nearly doubled in its first day of trading, jumping $14, or 88 percent, to $30. The online market for handmade crafts and vintage goods raised $267 million in its initial public offering late Wednesday, selling shares at $16 each.

U.S. government bonds held steady, with the 10-year Treasury yield trading at 1.88 percent.

In the commodity markets, industrial metals surged while precious metals barely budged. Copper rose 6 cents to settle at $2.77 a pound. Gold fell $3.30 to $1,198 an ounce, and silver added a penny to $16.28 an ounce.

The price of oil rose for the sixth day in a row on expectations that growth in U.S. supplies is slowing. Benchmark U.S. crude inched up 32 cents to close at $56.71 a barrel in New York. Brent crude for June delivery, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 66 cents to close at $63.98 a barrel in London. The Brent contract for delivery in May expired Wednesday at $60.32.

In other trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 0.1 cent to close at $1.935 a gallon.

— Heating oil rose 1.9 cents to close at $1.908 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 7.4 cents to close at $2.684 per 1,000 cubic feet.

 

 

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