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US STOCKS-Wall St edges up as earnings season gains speed

Chuck Mikolajczak
·3 min read
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(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window)

* GE jumps as free cash flow tops estimates

* J&J rises on upbeat 2021 profit outlook; vaccine data 'soon'

* AmEx drops after quarterly profit falls

* GameStop surges again as short-squeeze, retail frenzy continues

* Dow up 0.03%, S&P 500 down 0.02%, Nasdaq up 0.07% (Updates to mid-afternoon, changes byline)

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Jan 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged up on Tuesday to push the S&P 500 to a new high as investors digested a batch of corporate profit results, including Johnson & Johnson's strong profit forecast and 3M's quarterly profit beat as the pace of earnings season picks up.

3M Co climbed 3.03% as one of the biggest boosts on the Dow after it benefited from lower costs and demand for disposable respirator masks, hand sanitizers and safety glasses amid a surge in coronavirus infections.

Also providing a strong lift was Johnson & Johnson, which added 2.52%, as the drugmaker also said it expected to report eagerly awaited COVID-19 vaccine data early next week.

Of the 84 companies that have posted earnings through Tuesday morning, 86.9% have topped analyst expectations, according to Refinitiv data.

Still, some companies showed the toll the pandemic has had on their businesses. American Express Co fell 3.78% after it posted a 15% drop in quarterly profit as pandemic-led lockdowns and business restrictions kept the credit card issuer's members from traveling and dining out.

Verizon shed 3.39%, after the company posted earnings that topped expectations but missed prepaid phone subscriber estimates.

"Even though the expectations for the earnings recovery are pretty robust, at this stage it is still going to be a situation where there is not going to be a whole lot of visibility on earnings given the depths of the pandemic and uncertainty in the path ahead," said Tom Garretson, senior portfolio strategist at RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis.

"So at this stage that is probably why the market seems a bit more comfortable, because it is a little trickier than usual to put the right valuation on things."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 8.29 points, or 0.03%, to 30,968.29, the S&P 500 lost 0.86 points, or 0.02%, to 3,854.5 and the Nasdaq Composite added 8.94 points, or 0.07%, to 13,644.94.

Tech heavyweights Microsoft Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc were both modestly higher ahead of their earnings report after markets close.

Few if any changes are expected in the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy statement at the end of a two-day meeting on Wednesday, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell likely to address inflation in his post-meeting news conference.

With the S&P 500 trading at more than 22 times 12-month forward earnings, concerns about stock bubbles on Wall Street are sparking fears of a pullback. Investors are keeping an eye out for forecasts from corporate America to justify the higher valuations.

Progress in stimulus talks is in focus, with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying Democrats will move forward on President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief plan without Republican support if necessary.

Videogame retailer GameStop Corp climbed 72.56% after surging 144% on Monday, as individual investors again piled into a number of niche stocks, prompting short sellers to scramble to cover losing bets.

General Electric Co jumped 4.19% after the industrial conglomerate offered an upbeat outlook for its business this year and reported a surge in quarterly free cash flow.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.21-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.39-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 25 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 273 new highs and 8 new lows.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Dan Grebler)