Most US stocks rise after strong start to earnings season

Business

NEW YORK (AP) — Most U.S. stocks are rising Wednesday following an encouraging start to what’s expected to be a thunderous earnings reporting season, and indexes are drifting close to their record levels.

The S&P 500 was down 0.3% in afternoon trading after earlier flipping between small gains and losses, a day after returning to an all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 76 points, or 0.2%, to 33,750 after rising above its record of 33,800.60 earlier in the day. The Nasdaq composite was 0.8% lower, as of 2:53 p.m. Eastern time.

The S&P 500 was held back by drops for several heavyweight stocks, including Apple and Amazon, but the majority of stocks within the index were rising. Smaller companies were also rallying amid growing optimism as COVID-19 vaccines roll out and businesses reopen. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks was up 1.1%.

Shares of Coinbase Global, an exchange for bitcoin and other digital currencies, surged in their market debut, providing an exclamation mark and some validation for the world of cryptocurrencies.

Its stock opened at $381, after the Nasdaq earlier gave it a $250 reference price. It quickly rallied toward $430 before settling back at $334. At that price, investors say the company is worth more than $87 billion, which would make it more valuable than Nasdaq or Intercontinental Exchange, the owner of the New York Stock Exchange.

Interest in and prices for cryptocurrencies have been exploding recently as more companies and mainstream investors get involved. Coinbase turned a profit last year after reversing a $30.4 million loss from the year before, and it expects growth to continue because it sees the cryptoeconomy producing “a more fair, accessible, efficient, and transparent financial system for the internet age.”

Energy stocks were also among the market’s strongest on expectations that a resurgent economy will burn more petroleum products. The International Energy Agency raised its forecast for oil demand this year, up by 230,000 barrels per day to 96.7 million. A separate U.S. government report also showed that the amount of oil supplies in inventories fell sharply last week.

That helped benchmark U.S. crude oil rise $2.97 to settle at $63.15 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, climbed $2.91 to $66.58 a barrel. Within the S&P 500, Diamondback Energy was one of the top-performing stocks with a gain of 5.7%. Occidental Petroleum rose 4.7%.

Much of the market’s focus in coming weeks will be on earnings season, as companies line up to report how much profit they made during the first three months of 2021. Expectations are very high, and this may be the best quarter of earnings growth for S&P 500 companies in more than a decade.

Big banks are traditionally among the first companies to report, and Goldman SachsJPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo all unveiled earnings for the first quarter that blew past analysts’ forecasts. Much of the surge was due to expectations for a rapidly improving economy, which allowed banks to free up reserves held in case loans went bad, as well as strong trading revenue.

The better-than-expected results didn’t give all the bank stocks a uniform pop, though. Goldman Sachs rallied 2.9%, but JPMorgan Chase fell 1.8%. Wells Fargo was 5.1% higher, but only after swerving from an early-morning loss to a gain.

Stocks in recent earnings seasons have been failing to get as big a bounce as they usually do after reporting better-than-expected results. Analysts say it’s likely a result of how much stock prices have already rallied on expectations for the strong growth. The S&P 500 has soared roughly 85% since hitting a bottom in March 2020, even as the pandemic crunched profits for companies through last year.

Wednesday’s encouraging start to earnings season dovetails with several reports showing the economy is kicking into a higher gear as more widespread COVID-19 vaccinations and tremendous financial support from the U.S. government and Federal Reserve work through the system.

The expectations for a stronger economy, though, are also leading to worries about higher inflation. If inflation were to climb and sustain itself, it could send bond prices tumbling, erode profits for companies and trigger volatility across markets worldwide.

A report on Tuesday said that U.S. consumer prices rose more in March than economists expected, but investors largely took it in stride. The Federal Reserve has said that it expects higher inflation to be only temporary and that it’s ready to allow inflation to climb above its target level before it tries to tamp down prices by raising interest rates.

“The market can handle a higher interest rate level if it’s coupled with an improving growth backdrop,” said Jack Janasiewicz, portfolio strategist at Natixis Investment Managers.

Low rates engineered by the Fed have been one of the central reasons for the stock market’s surge over the last year.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury was holding steady at 1.63% after Fed Chair Jerome Powell again said the central bank will hold off on raising interest rates until the job market has fully healed, inflation has reached 2% and indications show inflation on track to stay moderately above 2% for some time. The Fed also released its latest “Beige Book” survey, which showed businesses around the country feeling more optimistic about the economy.

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