Weak earnings prospects weigh on stocks
NEW YORK – The stock market finished pretty much where it started Wednesday as a mixed bag of earnings from big-name American companies left investors uninspired.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index, the market’s most widely used barometer, ended up, but just barely: 0.01 point.
The Dow Jones industrial average edged down 43 points, held back by big drops in Procter & Gamble and AT&T. P&G issued a weak quarterly profit forecast and AT&T lost subscribers from its contract-based plans for the first time.
Investors are taking their cue from a heavy dose of earnings this week.
P&G, the maker of Tide detergent and Gillette razors, dropped $4.82, or 5.1 percent, to $77.12 after its profit forecast came in below what financial analysts were expecting. The company reported uneven demand for its new products.
AT&T dropped $1.96, or 5.2 percent, to $37.04 after it lost phone subscribers from its contract-based plans in its latest quarter.
Investors were also disappointed by sales growth at biotech giant Amgen and flat revenues at drugmaker Eli Lilly, though companies such as Boeing and General Dynamics tempered the mood with strong quarterly profits.
So far, 175 of the companies in the S&P 500, or 35 percent, have reported quarterly earnings. Two-thirds of the Dow’s members have reported.
While the majority of them have delivered better-than-expected profits, their sales haven’t been as strong, suggesting they are struggling to grow.
Sixty-nine percent of companies in the S&P 500 have beaten earnings expectations, better than the 10-year average of 62 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. However, only 39 percent have beaten revenue forecasts.
Looking ahead, the outlook dims. Of the 35 companies that have given earnings forecasts for the second quarter, 28 are “negative,” according to S&P Capital IQ, with only four “positive” and three “in-line.”
“We think that most managements are appropriately cautious in their outlooks, because it’s very possible that the second-quarter will continue to slow,” said Jim Russell, a regional investment director at U.S. Bank. “We’re watching with cautious optimism that this is a second-quarter-only soft patch in the economic data.”
A report Wednesday that orders for long-lasting U.S. factory goods fell more than economists expected added to concerns that global growth is slowing.
The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods declined 5.7 percent in March following a 4.3 percent gain the previous month. February’s figure was also revised lower.
The Dow closed down 43.16 points at 14,676.30, or 0.3 percent. The S&P 500 index was barely changed at 1,578.79. The Nasdaq composite edged up 0.32 point at 3,269.55. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks fared better. It rose 0.5 percent, or 4.75 points, to 934.11.
Last week, stocks logged their biggest weekly drop in five months after growth in China, the world’s second-biggest economy, slowed and commodity prices plunged. Weaker hiring and manufacturing growth in the U.S. have also weighed on the stock market.
The market’s gains in April have slowed sharply after a first-quarter surge pushed both the Dow and the S&P 500 to record highs. The Dow is up just 0.7 percent this month while the S&P 500 has gained 0.6 percent.
During the first three months of the year, the Dow and the S&P 500 averaged monthly gains of more than 3 percent, driven by optimism that the housing and job markets were recovering and that company earnings would continue to climb.
Companies are still making money in the first quarter, however, and are on track to increase their earnings by an average of almost 3 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ.
“Overall, I’m really quite comforted,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds. “It’s not an easy environment in which to make money, but companies are finding ways in which to hold costs in line and grow earnings.”
Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, was among the gainers Wednesday, advancing $4.50, or 7.4 percent, to $68.65. Yum turned in earnings late Tuesday that exceeded the expectations of financial analysts.
General Dynamic, the aerospace and defense company, also surged after posting a profit that was better than expected. The stock jumped $4.62, or 6.9 percent, to $71.73.
Boeing climbed $2.65, or 3 percent, to $90.83 after the airplane maker said its first-quarter net income rose 20 percent despite problems with the 787 Dreamliner. The company said it would still meet its financial and delivery targets this year.
U.S. benchmark oil for June delivery rose $2.25 to finish at $91.43 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold for June delivery rose $14.90 to $1,423.70 an ounce.
In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.71 percent from 1.70. The yield fell to 1.69 percent last week, close to its lowest of the year.