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Mixed reports leave stocks flat

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 7:03 p.m.
 

NEW YORK — The stock market finished pretty much where it started Wednesday as a mixed bag of earnings from big-name American companies left investors uninspired.

The Dow closed down 43.16 points, or 0.3 percent, at 14,676.30. The Standard & Poor's 500 index — the market's most widely used barometer —was flat at 1,578.79.

In other markets, the price of oil soared, posting its biggest gain this year. The price of gold and the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury rose.

The Dow was held back by big drops in Procter & Gamble and AT&T. P&G issued a weak quarterly profit forecast, and AT&T lost subscribers from its contract-based plans.

But other companies impressed investors and boosted their stock prices with strong quarterly earnings: Defense contractor General Dynamics and airplane maker Boeing easily beat expectations from financial analysts.

While the majority of corporations have delivered profits that were better than expected, their revenue hasn't been as impressive.

“Overall, the earnings environment is very lackluster, for want of a better word,” said Robbert van Batenburg, director of market strategy at Newedge.

So far, 175 of the companies in the S&P 500, or 35 percent, have reported quarterly earnings and two-thirds of the Dow's 30 members have reported.

Sixty-nine percent of companies in the S&P 500 have beaten profit expectations, better than the 10-year average of 62 percent, according to S&P Capital IQ. However, only 39 percent have beaten revenue forecasts.

Looking ahead, the outlook dims. Of the 35 companies that have given earnings forecasts for the second quarter, 28 have been “negative,” according to S&P Capital IQ, with only four “positive” and three “in-line.”

“We think that most managements are appropriately cautious in their outlooks, because it's very possible that the second quarter will continue to slow,” said Jim Russell, a regional investment director at U.S. Bank.

The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods declined 5.7 percent in March.

after a 4.3 percent gain the previous month. February's figure was also revised lower.

The Nasdaq composite edged up 0.32 point at 3,269.55. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks fared better. It rose 0.5 percent, or 4.75 points, to 934.11.

Last week, stocks logged their biggest weekly drop in five months on growth in China, the world's second-biggest economy, slowed and commodity prices plunged. Weaker hiring and manufacturing growth in the U.S. have also weighed on the stock market.

The Dow and S&P 500 reached record highs on April 11, but their gains have slowed sharply since then.

Crude oil rose $2.25 to finish at $91.43 a barrel as U.S. supplies rose less than expected last week.

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