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Stocks edge higher as earnings start

Steve Rothwell, AP Markets Writer

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 rose modestly Tuesday as traders lacked a catalyst to push the market higher following a strong start to the year.

The stock market has mostly moved sideways for the past three weeks, alternating between small gains and losses, after beginning the year on a tear. Signs of slowing growth and concerns about the outlook for Europe have checked investors' confidence.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 53 points, 0.4 percent, to 14,667 as of 12:37 p.m. EDT. The index is up 11.8 percent since 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 $1.67, or 11 percent, to $14.20 following its ouster of CEO Ron Johnson after only 17 months on the job. J.C. Penney announced late Monday that it had rehired Johnson's predecessor, Mike Ullman, who was CEO of the department store operator for seven years until November 2011.

Analysts and investors are questioning whether Ullman has what it takes to turn around the retailer's fortunes after sales plummeted under Johnson's reign.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose three points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,566. The Nasdaq composite gained four points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,222.

Material companies and energy corporations led gains in the S&P 500 index, rising 1.1 percent and 0.8 percent respectively. The prices of metals like gold and copper rose, bouncing back from a recent slump. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold rose $1.46 to $33.88. Cliff's Natural Resources, an iron ore mining company, rose $1.69 to $20.49, paring its losses this year to 47 percent.

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.