US stocks hover near records after mixed profit reports

U.S. stock indexes were flat in afternoon trading Wednesday as investors reviewed another set of mixed quarterly report cards from big companies.

While it’s still early this earnings season, traders are trying to gauge how much the U.S. trade war with China and a slowdown in global economic growth is hurting Corporate America.

Some big companies have reported earnings that topped Wall Street’s expectations, while others have warned that the slowing global economy and trade tensions are hitting their profits.

The benchmark S&P 500 index reflected that split, barely budging from where they finished on Tuesday and spending the day wavering between tiny gains and losses. Bond prices also were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury held at 1.76%.

“Share prices today are acting as if all of these uncertainties will be resolved favourably,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

Health care companies helped lead stocks higher, powered in part by Thermo Fisher Scientific, which reported stronger-than-expected profits and raised its forecast for full-year revenue and profit. Medical device company Boston Scientific also jumped to one of the biggest gains in the S&P 500 after reporting a bigger profit than expected.

Boeing rose 0.5% after it said its 737 Max airplane may return to service by the end of the year and that it will gradually increase 737 production by late 2020. That helped make up for its weaker-than-expected profit for the latest quarter.

On the losing end was Texas Instruments, which said its customers have become far more cautious than they were even 90 days ago, with trade tensions a big factor. It reported stronger profits for the latest quarter than analysts expected, but its forecast for this quarter fell short of their estimates. It lost 6.9%.

Caterpillar, another company whose fortunes are seen on Wall Street as closely tied to President Donald Trump’s trade wars, briefly declined before climbing 1.5% after reporting weaker-than-expected profit for the latest quarter.

Eli Lilly also dragged on the market despite reporting stronger profit than Wall Street expected. Analysts pointed to weakness in a couple key medications for the drugmaker, and its stock lost 2.6%.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was up 1 point, or less than 0.1%, at 2,997 as of 2:12 p.m. Earlier in the morning, it had been down 0.2%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 3 points, or less than 0.1%, to 26,784. The Nasdaq composite added less than 0.1%.

Stock indexes in Europe were mixed as the United Kingdom’s pending exit from the European Union appeared set for yet another delay.

EARNINGS: Roughly a quarter of companies in the S&P 500 have reported how much profit they made from July through September, and analysts are still forecasting the index will end up showing a drop in earnings per share from a year earlier.

If they’re right, it would be the first time earnings have dropped for three straight quarters since 2015-16, according to FactSet.

The weakest results are expected to come from companies that are reliant on the strength of the global economy, which has been slowing amid trade wars. Raw-material producers, technology companies and energy stocks are predicted to report drops of 10% or more, according to FactSet.

But analysts are forecasting stronger growth for communications companies and businesses that sell to consumers, which have been the strongest part of the economy.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.35 to $55.83 per barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, climbed $1.35 to $61.06 per barrel.


AP Business Writer Stan Choe contributed.

Alex Veiga, The Associated Press