U.S. Stocks Waver as Signs Of Future Profit Growth Wobble

NEW YORK (AP) -

U.S. stock indexes spent Wednesday drifting and finished with small gains. While big companies continue to report strong profit growth, investors aren’t sure how much longer it will last.

The S&P 500 index rallied 0.8 percent in the morning after fourth-quarter earnings from major companies including IBM, consumer products maker Proctor & Gamble, and manufacturer United Technologies. Later, traders focused on some less encouraging quarterly reports and the muddled state of trade talks between the U.S. and China, and the S&P 500 lost 0.8 percent before it gradually turned higher.

The S&P 500 added 5.80 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,638.70 after a 1.4 percent loss Tuesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 171.14 points, or 0.7 percent, to 24,575.62.

The Nasdaq composite edged up 5.41 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,025.77.

Smaller company stocks tend to do worse than larger ones when prospects for profit growth fades. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 3.20 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,454.26. Most of the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange finished with losses.

Energy companies fared the worst as the price of crude oil fell for the third time in four days after a strong start to 2019.

IBM rocketed 8.5 percent to $132.89 after its fourth-quarter results surpassed Wall Street estimates. Investors were also pleased with the company’s forecasts for 2019. BMO Research analyst Keith Bachman said critical operations including IBM’s business and technology services divisions did well in the quarter. IBM stock sank 25 percent in 2018.

Tide, Bounty and Crest maker Procter & Gamble rallied 4.9 percent to $94.84 after its profit came out ahead of expectations and its sales were well above analyst forecasts as well. The company said its annual profit and sales could be slightly stronger than it previously expected.

Elevator and jet engine maker United Technologies staged its biggest rally in almost a decade, rising 5.1 percent to $116.67 following its quarterly report. Media company Comcast jumped 5.5 percent, its biggest gain in almost three years. The stock closed at $36.89.

Stocks had slumped Tuesday as investors reacted to signs of slower global economic growth, including a weakened forecast from the International Monetary Fund.

Other corporate reports were less encouraging. Abbott Laboratories, which makes Ensure and Pedialyte nutritional shakes, heart devices and medications, fell 2.2 percent to $69.91 after its revenue disappointed investors.

Bond prices dipped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.74 percent from 2.73 percent.

U.S. crude oil lost 0.7 percent to $52.62 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 0.6 percent to $61.14 per barrel in London.

The dollar rose to 109.59 yen from 109.30 yen. The euro rose to $1.1383 from $1.1362.

In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline slipped 1.1 percent to $1.39 a gallon and heating oil fell 0.7 percent to $1.89 a gallon. Natural gas shed 2 percent to $2.98 per 1,000 cubic feet. Gold was unchanged at $1,284 an ounce and silver rose 0.4 percent to $15.38 an ounce. Copper slipped 0.2 percent to $2.65 a pound.