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Wall St posts slim gain ahead of big earnings week

By Lewis Krauskopf, Sruthi Shankar and Ankika Biswas

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A trader works on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., March 17, 2023. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly


(Reuters) - Major U.S. stock indexes ended with fractional gains on Friday following mixed earnings results as investors assessed how conflicting economic data might influence interest rates and looked ahead to a massive week of corporate reports.

A survey showed U.S. business activity accelerated to an 11-month high in April, further clouding the outlook for the Federal Reserve's monetary policy after data earlier in the week indicated a weakening economy.

Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) Co's shares rose 3.5% as customers kept buying despite repeated price hikes, helping the maker of products raging from Tide detergent and Gillette razors to Head & Shoulders shampoo and Crest toothpaste boost its sales forecast and third-quarter margins.

The benchmark S&P 500 has been generally stable over early stages of a first-quarter earnings season that investors expect to show tepid results. Next week will see a flood of reports, including from megacap tech and growth companies whose shares have helped the S&P 500 rally to start the year.

“The market has been basically in a bit of a holding pattern ahead of big tech earnings next week,” said Keith Lerner, co-chief investment officer at Truist Advisory Services. "There is a tug of war between good and bad economic data, good and bad earnings data.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 22.34 points, or 0.07%, to 33,808.96, the S&P 500 gained 3.73 points, or 0.09%, to 4,133.52 and the Nasdaq Composite added 12.90 points, or 0.11%, to 12,072.46.

For the week, the S&P 500 slipped 0.1%, the Dow dipped 0.2% and the Nasdaq lost 0.4%. Results next week are due from some of the highest-valued U.S. companies including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Google parent Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). Amazon shares rose 3% on Friday after a research firm predicted the online retailer's business in North America would beat Wall Street's estimates.

The materials group fell 0.9%, most among S&P 500 sectors, weighed down by declines in Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) Inc and Albemarle (NYSE:ALB) Corp. Albemarle slumped 10% after Chile unveiled plans to nationalize the lithium industry. Shares of Freeport dropped 4.1% after the copper miner's first-quarter profit more than halved.

In other earnings news, HCA Healthcare (NYSE:HCA) Inc shares jumped about 4% after the hospital operator lifted forecasts for 2023. Its report boosted shares of other hospital operators.

So far, analysts have largely retained last week's expectations of a near-5% year-on-year fall in quarterly profits at S&P 500 companies, according to Refinitiv data.

"The unpredictability of earnings and revenue and guidance going forward has increased a lot," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel. "You have signs that the economy is softening all over the place."

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.24-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.10-to-1 ratio favored decliners. The S&P 500 posted 20 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 53 new highs and 186 new lows.

About 9.9 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, compared with the 10.4 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions.

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