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US stocks shift between gains and losses as earnings reports pour in; Merck jumps on results

NEW YORK, N.Y. – U.S. stocks fluctuated between gains and losses Tuesday as investors worked through the latest round of earnings reports. Pharmaceutical stocks rose after drug giant Merck reported better-than-expected results.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was up 58 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 18,096 as of 12 p.m. Eastern. It was down 120 points earlier. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose four points to 2,113 and the Nasdaq composite was unchanged at 5,065.

HEALTHY: Merck rose $2.88, or 5 per cent, to $59.96. While the company’s profits fell 44 per cent from a year ago, the results still handily beat analysts’ estimates. Adjusted earnings for the maker of diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet were 85 cents a share versus the 75 cents expected by analysts.

APPLE: The iPhone and computer and maker reported a record quarterly profit of $13.6 billion, but Apple’s outlook was not as rosy as some analysts had predicted. Apple was unchanged at $132.66 after being down 2 per cent earlier. Apple had a record $193.5 billion in cash on its balance sheet and plans on increasing its dividend and share buyback.

ON SALE: Appliance maker Whirlpool dropped $13.90, or 7 per cent, to $183.84. The company had to slash its 2015 annual forecast, due to the rising dollar and low demand for appliances in Brazil, it said.

FED WATCH: Much of the focus over the coming two days will be on the Fed’s meeting. At the two-day meeting, which ends Wednesday, policymakers are set to discuss when the Fed should start raising interest rates again. The Fed opened the door to rate increases after its March meeting, but some recent weak economic data might complicate that picture.

GLOOMY: The Conference Board said Tuesday that U.S. consumer confidence fell in April to the lowest level in four months, knocked down by a slowdown in hiring. The Board said its consumer confidence index fell to 95.2 in April from 101.4 in March. That was the lowest level since 93.1 in December. Consumers’ assessment of current economic conditions fell for the third straight month, and their expectations for the future also fell.

GREECE: Investors are continuing to watch negotiations between Greece and its creditors. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided Monday to reorganize his negotiating team with European officials, which appears to have eased concerns that a deal will be made before Greece could default. Tsipras also laid out the hope that a deal will be concluded by May 9, two days ahead of a meeting of European finance ministers.

EUROPE: Germany’s DAX fell 1.9 per cent, France’s CAC-40 index lost 1.8 per cent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 fell 1 per cent. Greek stocks bucked the trend. The Athens stock market rose 1.4 per cent. The yield on Greece’s 10-year bond fell to 10.90 per cent from 11.56 per cent the day before. That’s a sign investors are less worried about Greece defaulting on its debt.

EURO RISING: One of the clearest indicators of the improving Greek backdrop has been the rise of the euro. The euro rose to $1.0978 from $1.0881 the day before. It hasn’t traded above $1.10 since mid-March.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 8 cents to $57.08 a barrel in New York. Brent crude rose 24 cents to $65.06 a barrel in London.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.96 per cent from 1.92 per cent late Monday.