US stocks finish higher on earnings

Solid earnings from a broad swath of US companies pushed the stock market higher today.

Specialist Jason Hardzewicz on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as US stock futures were edging higher (AP)
Specialist Jason Hardzewicz on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as US stock futures were edging higher (AP)

Ameriprise Financial, a wealth management company, surged after posting earnings that exceeded Wall Street's expectations.

The company also said it would buy back an additional 2.5 billion dollars of its own stock and raise its dividend.

Cummins, a maker of large diesel engines, jumped after the company said a surge in North American sales sent its earnings higher.

Just over half the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index have now released their earnings for the first quarter and, with the occasional exception, the reports have contained enough good news to drive stock prices higher.

The S&P 500 has gained 2.1% since April 14, and the index is approaching its all-time high following a drop at the start of the month prompted by a sell-off in formerly highflying Internet and biotechnology stocks.

"Corporate earnings are pretty good," said Randy Frederick, Managing Director of Trading and Derivatives at the Schwab Centre for Financial Research.

"Once the market got back on its feet after that dip that we had, it seems to be poised to hit a new record high very soon."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.90 points, or 0.5%, to 1,878.33. The index is 12 points below its record high of 1,890.89 set on April 2.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 86.63 points, or 0.5%, to 16,535.37. The Nasdaq composite gained 29.14 points, or 0.7%, to 4,103.54.

Analysts currently expect earnings for S&P 500 companies to grow by 1.4% in the first quarter, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

Although that is lower than the 5.2% earnings growth recorded in the same period a year ago, expectations for the period were low after an unusually harsh winter.

Two weeks ago, analysts were expecting an overall decline in earnings, but those expectations have risen as more companies have reported earnings.

Ameriprise rose 6.04 dollars, or 5.8%, to 109.55 dollars. Financial stocks rose almost 1%, the biggest gain of the 10 industry groups that make up the S&P 500.

Cummins rose 5.61 dollars, or 3.9%, to 150.81 dollars after the company posted its results and raised its sales outlook due to improving demand in North America.

Coach, a maker of handbags and other luxury goods, was among the day's losers.

The company's stock fell 4.71 dollars, or 9.3%, to 45.71 dollars after Coach said its earnings declined in the first three months of the year. Sales in North America came under pressure from competitors like Michael Kors.

Investors get more information on the US economy and the Federal Reserve's thinking tomorrow.

The Commerce Department will issue the first of three estimates of how fast the US economy grew in the January-March quarter.

Economists say a slowdown last quarter, caused mainly by a severe winter, is likely giving way to stronger growth that should endure through the rest of the year.

The Fed will release a statement after the conclusion of its two-day meeting. Most economists expect that the Fed will reduce its monthly bond purchases by another 10 billion dollars, to 45 billion dollars a month. The Fed's stimulus has helped underpin a five-year rally in stocks.