New York, July 19 (AP/UNB) — U.S. stock indexes sloshed between small gains and losses Friday after Microsoft, American Express and other big companies offered up a mixed set of earnings reports.
The big event for markets is still a couple weeks away, when investors expect the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates for the first time in more than a decade. Investors are trying to guess how big a cut will come and position themselves accordingly. Until then, they're focusing on whether companies can top the meager expectations Wall Street has for the profits they made during the spring.
Microsoft rose after reporting stronger earnings for April through June than analysts expected and helped technology stocks deliver some of the market's bigger gains. Several banks also rose following encouraging profit reports, but a drop for American Express held back financial stocks as a group. Losses for health care stocks and high dividend payers also kept the S&P 500 about 0.8% below its record set on Monday.
Momentum for stocks has slowed since early June, when they began soaring on expectations that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates to make sure the U.S. economy doesn't succumb to weaknesses abroad. The Fed's next meeting is scheduled for the end of this month.
Late Thursday, Treasury yields sank after comments by Fed officials raised expectations that the central bank may cut rates by half a percentage point, rather than the traditional quarter point. But yields climbed Friday, and the market sees a quarter-point cut as the most likely move on July 31.
KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was down 0.2%, as of 2:54 p.m. Eastern time. Earlier in the day, it had been up 0.4%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 27 points, or 0.1%, to 27,250, and the Nasdaq composite fell 0.3%.
AZURE SKIES: Microsoft rose 0.5% after strong performance from its cloud-computing business helped drive it to a better-than-expected profit last quarter.
WHEN $4.9 BILLION ISN'T THAT BAD: Boeing said it will take a $4.9 billion charge to cover possible compensation it will pay airlines following the grounding of its 737 Max jet. That's a huge number, analysts concede, but it may provide some certainty to investors who had worried the payments could be much higher. Boeing also said the figure assumes its 737 Max jets return to service later this year, which would be earlier than some investors thought.
Boeing shares rose 4.4% and helped drive industrial stocks to the biggest gain of the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500, at 0.9%.
BANKING ON IT: Citizens Financial Group jumped 5.8% for one of the biggest gains in the S&P 500 after it reported stronger profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected. Regions Financial and Capital One Financial also beat Wall Street's profit forecasts, and each rose at least 2.5%.
But financial stocks in the S&P 500 were flat overall, largely due to a 2.5% drop for American Express. The company reported stronger earnings for the latest quarter than analysts forecast, but it did not raise its forecast for full-year earnings.
ANALYST'S TAKE: Companies entered the latest round of earnings with fairly low expectations from Wall Street, and it's showing.
"The biggest overall trend is if you beat, you may be mildly rewarded and if you miss, you are going to get pounded," said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist for TD Ameritrade.
The week's batch of corporate earnings has also shown that consumers are spending money but companies have a wide range of potential problems heading into the second half of the year, he said.
ABOVE THE FOLD: USA Today owner Gannett surged 18.4% following media reports that it is considering a combination with GateHouse Media. The reports come two months after the Gannett's shareholders rebuffed an attempt to overthrow its board by MNG Enterprises, also known as Digital First Media.
COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude oil climbed 33 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $55.63 after being down earlier in the day. It moved higher after Iran's Revolutionary Guard said it has seized a British oil tanker that was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Brent crude, the international standard, rose 54 cents, or 0.9%, to $62.47 per barrel.
Gold slipped $1.40 to $1,426.70 per ounce. Silver was flat at $16.12 an ounce and copper rose 4 cents to $2.74 a pound.
YIELDS: The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady at 2.04%. The two-year yield, which is more influenced by expectations of Fed moves on rates, rose to 1.81% from 1.77% late Thursday.
MARKETS ABROAD: Asian markets were strong, with Japan's Nikkei 225 index up 2%, South Korea's Kospi gaining 1.3% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong up 1.1%.
The FTSE 100 in London added 0.2%, the German Dax rose 0.3% and the French CAC 40 was virtually flat.