* Alcoa to report after market closes, could set initial
* Earnings expected to grow, but may struggle to top
* Consumer staples lead on the day, Monster beverage jumps
* Lufkin stock jumps almost 38 pct on GE's plan to buy
* Indexes: Dow flat, S&P up 0.3 pct, Nasdaq up 0.3 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, April 8 U.S. stocks rose slightly in a
volatile session on Monday as investors were reluctant to make
large bets going into an earnings season that is expected to be
Forecasts for first-quarter earnings have been scaled back
dramatically, with profits seen rising just 1.6 percent from the
year-ago quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data. In January,
earnings were seen rising 4.3 percent.
The drop in profit expectations has come amid an economy
that could be hitting a slow patch, with last week's March
payroll report severely below expectations. Weak corporate
results could give investors further reasons to sell, pushing
both the Dow and S&P 500 back from recent all-time closing
The season unofficially starts after the market closes with
results from Alcoa Inc, the first Dow component to
report, though many more bellwether companies won't come out
until next week. Alcoa is seen posting a profit of 8 cents a
share, down from 10 cents last year.
"We're waiting for earnings for evidence that the market can
be supported at these levels," said Jim Dunigan, chief
investment officer at PNC Wealth Management in Philadelphia. "We
will see growth in earnings, but clearing the expectations bar
could be difficult, which could give us reason to pause."
Wall Street opened flat and dipped early in the session on
concerns about the earnings season, though stocks rebounded in
Consumer staples were the stronger performers of
the day, rising 0.8 percent, led by a 4.8 percent jump in
Monster Beverage shares to $52.06.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.58 points,
or 0.00 percent, at 14,565.83. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
was up 4.21 points, or 0.27 percent, at 1,557.49. The
Nasdaq Composite Index was up 7.35 points, or 0.23
percent, at 3,211.20.
Stocks have rallied strongly this year with major indexes
hitting record highs, helped in part by the Federal Reserve's
stimulus program. The S&P 500 is up nearly 9 percent for the
year so far, while the Dow has gained just under 11 percent.
Despite that, major indexes posted their worst weekly loss
for 2013 last week, with the payroll report fueling concerns
about economic growth.
"A lot of the momentum we had in the first quarter was based
on improving economic news, and the jobs report really took the
wind out of our sails," said Dunigan, who helps oversee $116
billion in assets. "We're still trying to sift through what that
means for our prospects going forward."
Loose monetary policy from central banks around the world is
expected to keep equities attractive, and recently investors
have been using market declines as buying opportunities.
The Bank of Japan started its bond purchases on Monday after
it announced last week it will inject about $1.4 trillion into
the economy in less than two years.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will give a speech later on Monday
after markets are closed. Investors have been watching for any
insight into the Fed's thinking on how long the central bank
will keep its asset purchase program in place as it tries to
boost the economic recovery.
General Electric Co said it will buy oilfield pump
maker Lufkin Industries Inc for about $2.98 billion,
driving Lufkin shares up nearly 38 percent to $87.97. GE, a Dow
component, declined 0.2 percent to $22.88.
Among blue-chip stocks, Johnson & Johnson Inc was
the Dow's biggest percentage decliner after JPMorgan downgraded
the healthcare company's stock to "neutral" from "overweight,"
saying it faced "a messy first quarter and a likely downward
revision to 2013 guidance." The stock fell 1.7 percent to
Among technology stocks, HP shares shed 1 percent to
$21.74. Google Inc slid 1.7 percent to $769.99.