* S&P on track for best month since October 2011
* Pfizer up after results, AT&T also rises
* Amazon shares fall ahead of earnings
* Ford tumbles on forecast of slumping European sales
* Dow up 0.5 pct, S&P up 0.4 pct, Nasdaq down 0.1 pct
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, Jan 29 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday, led by defensive sectors, in a sign the cash piles recently moving into the market are being put to use by cautious investors to pick up more gains.
The S&P 500 is on track to post its best monthly performance since October 2011 and its best January since 1997 as investors poured $55 billion in new cash into stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in January, the biggest monthly inflow on record.
Among rising defensive shares, which are companies relatively immune to economic swings, were drugmaker Pfizer, up 1.2 percent to $27.16 after posting earnings and AT&T, 1.5 percent higher at $34.64.
“Cyclicals were moving very nicely, now you see balance with some of the defensives. Many managers use that as an internal hedge in equity portfolios,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.
She said the market is cautious ahead of Wednesday’s statement following the Federal Reserve’s two-day meeting. In addition, defensive stocks would hold up better if Friday’s payrolls report surprises on the downside.
The S&P hovered near 1,500, and market technicians say the benchmark is at an inflection point which will determine the overall direction in the near term.
“The public is pouring in now,” said Carter Worth, chief market technician at Oppenheimer & Co in New York. “It reflects complacency and that typically leads to hubris, and hubris leads to trouble. Everyone’s buying.”
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 70.27 points or 0.51 percent, to 13,952.2, the S&P 500 gained 6.62 points or 0.44 percent, to 1,506.8 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.52 points or 0.11 percent, to 3,150.77.
The top performing sectors on the S&P 500 were healthcare and telecom services, so-called defensives, both up more than 1 percent.
The energy sector also advanced, on the back of strong earnings from Valero Energy Corp and a hedge fund move to break up Hess Corp to boost investor returns.
Valero shares jumped 10.3 percent to $42.82 and Hess gained 8.5 percent to $67.80.
The equity gains have largely come on a strong start to earnings season, though results were mixed on Tuesday with Pfizer rising but Ford Motor Co down after its report.
Both companies reported profits that topped expectations, but Ford also forecast a wider loss in its European segment. Ford dropped 5.6 percent to $13.01 as one of the biggest percentage losers on the S&P 500.
Thomson Reuters data showed that of the 174 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings this season, 68.4 percent have been above analyst expectations, which is a higher proportion than over the past four quarters and above the average since 1994.
Disappointing outlooks from Seagate Technology and BMC Software pressured their shares. Seagate lost 9.6 percent to $33.82 and BMC fell 8.5 percent to $40.70.
Software maker VMware Inc lost 21 percent to $77.71 also after a cautious 2013 outlook.
Amazon was the biggest drag on the Nasdaq with a 2.1 percent drop to $270.17 before its results, expected after the closing bell.
U.S. home prices rose in November to rack up their best yearly gain since the housing crisis began, a further sign that the sector is on the mend, but consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in more than a year in the wake of higher taxes for many Americans.