Most U.S. Stocks Rise After Strong Start To Earnings Season

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NEW YORK  — Most U.S. stocks are rising Wednesday after fat profit reports from big banks kicked off what’s expected to be a thunderous earnings reporting season, and indexes are drifting close to their record levels.

The S&P 500 was flipping between small gains and losses in afternoon trading and was 0.3% lower, as of 2:04 p.m. Eastern time, a day after returning to an all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 128 points, or 0.4%, to 33,805, and above its closing record of 33,800.60 set last week. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.8% after losing an earlier gain.

The S&P 500 was held back by drops for a handful of heavyweight stocks, including Apple and Amazon, but roughly two out of three stocks within the index were rising. Smaller companies were also rallying amid growing optimism as COVID-19 vaccines roll out and businesses reopen. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks was up 1.6%.

Shares of Coinbase Global, an exchange for bitcoin and other digital currencies, surged in their market debut, providing an exclamation mark and some validation for the world of cryptocurrencies.

Its stock opened at $381, after the Nasdaq earlier gave it a $250 reference price. It quickly rallied toward $430 before settling back at $383. At that price, investors say the company is worth $100 billion, which would make it more valuable than Nasdaq or Intercontinental Exchange, the owner of the New York Stock Exchange.

Interest in and prices for cryptocurrencies have been exploding recently as more companies and mainstream investors get involved. Coinbase turned a profit last year after reversing a $30.4 million loss from the year before, and it expects growth to continue because it sees the cryptoeconomy producing “a more fair, accessible, efficient, and transparent financial system for the internet age.”

Energy stocks were also among the market’s strongest on expectations that a resurgent economy will burn more petroleum products. The International Energy Agency raised its forecast for oil demand this year, up by 230,000 barrels per day to 96.7 million.

That helped benchmark U.S. crude oil rise 5% to $63.20 per barrel and Brent crude, the international standard, climb 4.8% to $66.75 per barrel. Within the S&P 500, Diamondback Energy was one of the top-performing stocks with a gain of 5.8%. Occidental Petroleum rose 4.7%.

Much of the market’s focus in coming weeks will be on earnings season, as companies line up to report how much profit they made during the first three months of 2021. Expectations are very high, and this may be the best quarter of earnings growth for S&P 500 companies in more than a decade.

Big banks are traditionally among the first companies to report, and Goldman SachsJPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo all unveiled earnings for the first quarter that blew past analysts’ forecasts. Much of the surge was due to expectations for a rapidly improving economy, which allowed banks to free up reserves held in case loans went bad, as well as strong trading revenue.

The better-than-expected results didn’t give all the bank stocks a uniform pop, though. Goldman Sachs did rally 2.7%, but JPMorgan Chase fell 1.4%. Wells Fargo was 4.9% higher, but only after swerving from an early-morning loss to a gain.

Stocks in recent earnings seasons have been failing to get as big a bounce as they usually do after reporting better-than-expected results. Analysts say it’s likely a result of how much stock prices have already rallied on expectations for the strong growth. The S&P 500 has soared roughly 85% since hitting a bottom in March 2020, even as the pandemic crunched profits for companies through last year.

Wednesday’s encouraging start to earnings season dovetails with several reports showing the economy is kicking into a higher gear as more widespread COVID-19 vaccinations and tremendous financial support from the U.S. government and Federal Reserve work through the system.

The expectations for a stronger economy, though, are also leading to worries about higher inflation. If inflation were to climb and sustain itself, it could send bond prices tumbling, erode profits for companies and trigger volatility across markets worldwide.

A report on Tuesday said that U.S. consumer prices rose more in March than economists expected, but investors largely took it in stride. The Federal Reserve has said that it expects higher inflation to be only temporary and that it’s ready to allow inflation to climb above its target level for a while before it tries to tamp down prices by raising interest rates.

“The market can handle a higher interest rate level if it’s coupled with an improving growth backdrop,” said Jack Janasiewicz, portfolio strategist at Natixis Investment Managers.

Low rates engineered by the Fed have been one of the central reasons for the stock market’s surge over the last year.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.64% from 1.63% late Tuesday.

In European stock markets, the German DAX slipped 0.2%, and the French CAC 40 added 0.4%. The FTSE 100 in London rose 0.7%.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 shed 0.4% after government data showed February machinery orders fell by an unexpectedly wide margin, adding to concern about the country’s recovery.

South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.4%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 1.4% and stocks in Shanghai rose 0.6.%.

By STAN CHOE and DAMIAN J. TROISE -  April 14. 2021 - 2:21 PM ET



AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed.


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