Stocks struggle for direction as earnings start

Stocks struggle for direction as US corporate earnings reports get underway

Associated Press
Dow Jones average closes at another record high
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FILE - In this Thursday, April 4, 2013 file photo, traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. World stock markets rose Tuesday April 9, 2013 as investors looked ahead to U.S. corporate earnings, but Japan's benchmark index finished marginally lower, ending a four-session rally sparked by the Bank of Japan's bold program to revive the country's moribund economy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were little changed Tuesday as traders lacked a catalyst to push stocks higher following a strong start to the year.

The stock market has mostly moved sideways for the past three weeks, following a strong start to the year that pushed the Dow and the S&P 500 index to all-time highs. Signs of slowing growth and concerns about the outlook for Europe have checked investors' confidence.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose seven points, 0.4 percent, to 14,623.96 as of 11:04 a.m. EDT, after alternating between small gains and losses in early trading. The index is up 11.6 percent from the start of the year.

Alcoa, traditionally the first company in the Dow to report results, was little changed at $8.40 after the company posted its earnings late Monday. The aluminum producer's earnings beat Wall Street's expectations but the company was still weighed down by depressed aluminum prices, which offset strong demand from auto and plane makers.

Online auto retailer CarMax, home goods retailer Bed Bath & Beyond and banks Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are among companies that will report earnings later this week.

Investors will be looking to see whether companies are feeling an impact from government spending cuts that kicked in recently, said Jim Russell, investment director at U.S. Bank. They will also want to know what impact, if any, there will be from the ongoing debt crisis in Europe.

"The market is looking for companies to fill in those blanks," said Russell.

J.C. Penney Co. plunged $1.89, or 13 percent, to $13.98 following its ouster of CEO Ron Johnson after only 17 months on the job. Late Monday, J.C. Penney announced that it had rehired Johnson's predecessor, Mike Ullman, who was CEO of the department store operator for seven years until November 2011.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index was flat at 1,563.17. The Nasdaq composite fell 1.7 points, or 0.02 percent, to 3,222.

While stocks are struggling to extend their gains from the start of the year, bonds have rallied. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, fell to 1.74 from 1.75 percent.

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