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Stocks edge up at the end of a holiday-shortened week

New York Stock Exchange
The facade of the New York Stock Exchange.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

The major U.S. stock indexes capped a holiday-shortened week with slight gains Thursday, reversing some of the modest losses from the day before.

The day’s marginal upward move was not enough to keep the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index from snapping a streak of three straight weekly gains.

Industrial-sector stocks paved the way higher as traders welcomed solid earnings from Snap-on, Honeywell International, United Rentals and Union Pacific. Technology companies also notched solid gains, offsetting losses by financial and energy stocks.

Traders gave a strong reception to Pinterest and Zoom Video Communications, two technology companies that made their widely anticipated stock market debuts. Cigarette makers fell on news that the U.S. Senate majority leader plans to introduce legislation to raise the nation’s minimum age to buy tobacco products.

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Investors remain focused on company earnings as they look for clues about the health of the U.S. economy and the prospects for better corporate profits, which are a key driver of stock market gains. Analysts expect the wave of first-quarter results for S&P 500 companies will be the weakest in nearly three years.

“The big takeaway over the past week is the U.S. is doing OK and [company] outlooks are initially reasonable,” said Ben Phillips, chief investment officer at EventShares.

The S&P 500 rose 4.58 points, or 0.2%, to 2,905.03. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 110 points, or 0.4%, to 26,559.54.

The Nasdaq composite edged up 1.98 points, or less than 0.1%, to 7,998.06. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slipped 1.85 points, or 0.1%, to 1,565.75.

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Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.56% from 2.59%.

The U.S. stock indexes struggled to maintain momentum for much of the day. The market charted an uneven course all week as traders waded through company earnings reports.

Even so, stocks are still holding on to blockbuster gains after rebounding from a steep sell-off late last year. The S&P 500 remains within 1% of the all-time high it reached Sept. 20.

The Federal Reserve helped spur the market’s rebound early this year when it said it may not raise interest rates at all in 2019.

Investors are looking at company earnings as they try to divine which direction stocks will churn next.

“We haven’t really gotten to the meat of earnings season, and [investors] want to see some really positive guidance, and they want to make sure earnings are growing,” said Karyn Cavanaugh, senior markets strategist at Voya Investment Management. “We have a high bar to jump over from last year because in the first quarter we had that one-time tax bump.”

Several industrial stocks surged Thursday after reporting solid quarterly results.

Snap-on climbed 6.5% after the tool and diagnostic equipment maker’s first-quarter profit beat forecasts and reported growth in its U.S. franchise network.

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Union Pacific gained 4.4% after the railroad said its first-quarter profit climbed 6% — beating analysts’ estimates — even though it hauled 2% fewer carloads and dealt with massive flooding. But its revenue declined, falling short of analysts’ forecasts.

United Rentals surged 8.1% after the construction equipment rental company’s quarterly results beat expectations.

Honeywell International rose 3.8% after its quarterly earnings beat analysts’ forecasts thanks to a strong sales growth in aerospace, building technologies and other lines of business. The company also raised its earnings guidance for the year.

Results from other companies left traders wanting.

Skechers USA tumbled 10.4% after the Manhattan Beach footwear company’s quarterly results fell short of Wall Street’s forecasts. It also issued disappointing second-quarter guidance.

KeyCorp fell 2.2% after the bank’s latest quarterly snapshot missed analysts’ targets as income from fees declined.

Cigarette makers fell after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he plans to introduce legislation to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 nationally.

The Senate leader said his bill will cover all tobacco products, including vaping devices, and will continue to hold retailers responsible for verifying the age of anyone buying tobacco products. About a dozen states, including California, have already enacted laws raising the minimum legal age to 21.

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Altria Group fell 3.2%. Philip Morris International fell 1.2%.

Pinterest and Zoom surged in their first day of trading. Pinterest, whose platform lets users share images of crafts and other projects, jumped 28.4% from its IPO price of $19 a share. Zoom, a maker of video conference technology, vaulted 72.2% from its IPO price of $36 a share.

The San Francisco companies’ market debuts came less than a month after ride-hailing firm Lyft began trading. Lyft shares surged their first day but have since plunged back below their IPO price.

The market also got a boost from positive economic data on U.S. retail sales and unemployment claims.

The Commerce Department said retail sales surged in March at the fastest pace since late 2017, driven by increased spending on autos, gasoline, furniture and clothing. The gains are a sign that the healthy job market has probably made consumers more eager to spend in ways that boost overall economic growth.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said weekly applications for unemployment aid declined last week.

“The consumer is the driving force of the U.S. economy, and when you get good initial jobless claims and good retail sales it just confirms the fact that the consumer is very strong, and that’s what’s giving investors a little bit of comfort,” Cavanaugh said.

U.S. stock markets will be closed Friday in observance of the Good Friday holiday.

Energy futures finished mostly higher Thursday. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 0.4% to $64 a barrel.

Wholesale gasoline rose 1.5% to $2.07 a gallon. Heating oil edged up 0.1% to $2.07 a gallon. Natural gas fell 1.1% to $2.49 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold slipped 0.1% to $1,276 an ounce. Silver rose 0.1% to $14.96 an ounce. Copper fell 1.6% to $2.92 a pound.

The dollar fell to 111.93 yen from 112.07 yen. The euro weakened to $1.1230 from $1.1298.


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