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Stock indexes edge up, and Walmart jumps after posting strong earnings

Stock indexes edge up, and Walmart jumps after posting strong earnings
The benchmark S&P 500, which has risen each of the last three weeks, edged up to 2,779.76 points Tuesday. (Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images)

Stocks shook off an early wobble on Wall Street on Tuesday, finishing modestly higher and extending the market’s gains into a fourth week.

Solid earnings from Walmart encouraged investors to bid up other retailers and consumer goods companies. Communication services firms, banks and home builders also contributed to the broad gains.

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About 81% of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index have reported results for the last three months of 2018, delivering earnings growth of 13.1% compared with a year earlier, according to FactSet. But earnings for the current quarter are expected to decline 2.5% from the same quarter last year.

Walmart’s strong quarterly performance was an encouraging signal on U.S. consumer spending after a government report last week showed retail sales slumped in December.

“Now that we’re winding down on earnings, investors are looking forward to what’s going to move the market higher,” said Karyn Cavanaugh, senior markets strategist at Voya Investment Management. “The fact that the consumer is still strong is a comfort to investors.”

The benchmark S&P 500, which has risen each of the last three weeks, edged up 4.16 points, or 0.1%, to 2,779.76.

The Dow Jones industrial average was almost flat, rising 8.07 points to 25,891.32. The Nasdaq composite rose 14.36 points, or 0.2%, to 7,486.77. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies ticked up 5.22 points, or 0.3%, to 1,574.47.

Major European indexes finished mostly lower.

U.S. stock indexes got off to a downbeat start Tuesday as markets reopened after the Presidents Day holiday. They wavered between small gains and losses for a while, then veered higher and held on to most of their gains the rest of the day.

London bank HSBC slid 3% and oil and gas-rig operator Transocean declined 2.2% after both companies reported quarterly results that fell short of analysts’ forecasts.

Walmart helped lift the market. The world’s largest retailer rose 2.2% after its quarterly earnings beat forecasts. Walmart benefited from growth in online sales and the expansion of its grocery pickup and delivery business.

Other retailers’ stocks rose too. Amazon advanced 1.2%. Target climbed 1.5%.

Home builders notched gains after an industry survey showed builders are feeling more confident about their sales prospects this month. The National Assn. of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index had a reading of 62 — up four points from last month and the highest since October. Readings above 50 indicate more builders see sales conditions as good rather than poor.

William Lyon Homes was among the biggest gainers, climbing 3.1%.

The latest round of company earnings showed solid profit growth for the final three months of 2018 but caution about conditions going forward amid signs of a weaker global economy this year. Europe and China have both reported slower economic growth.

Uncertainty over the U.S.-China trade war has also clouded the outlook for company profits.

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“We still have that overhang of global growth and trade issues,” Cavanaugh said, noting that traders are feeling “a little trepidation” about first-quarter company earnings.”

Investors were also keeping a close eye on talks between U.S. and Chinese negotiators in Washington that are aimed at ending a trade war between the world’s largest economies.

A truce between the U.S. and China on increased American tariffs on Chinese goods expires at the end of next week, leaving the U.S. free to more than double its import duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

President Trump has said he might extend that March 2 deadline if the two countries are close to a deal. A round of talks in Beijing last week reached an inconclusive end.

China’s state media reported that Vice Premier Liu He, China’s economy czar, is due to arrive in Washington on Thursday after two days of preliminary talks by lower-level officials.

The United States is wrangling over trade with many nations. On Monday, the European Union warned that the bloc will hold back on a commitment to buy more U.S. soybeans and liquefied gas if European cars are hit with punitive tariffs.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.64% from Friday’s 2.66%. That yield is used to set rates on mortgages and other kinds of loans.

The dollar rose to 110.66 yen from Monday’s 110.60 yen. The euro strengthened to $1.1340 from $1.1312.

Gold rose 1.7% to $1,344.80 an ounce. Silver rose 1.4% to $15.97 an ounce. Copper climbed 2.7% to $2.87 a pound.

U.S. benchmark crude rose 0.9% to $55.09 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, slipped 0.1% to $66.45 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 0.6% to $1.56 a gallon. Heating oil slid 1.3% to $1.99 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1.4% to $2.66 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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