Wall Street closes slightly higher, industrials lead

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Industrials led the S&P 500 and the Dow moderately higher on Thursday after robust U.S. economic data and some healthy corporate earnings reports.

All three major U.S. stock indexes closed in positive territory heading into the three-day weekend.

For the holiday-shortened week, the S&P snapped its three-week winning streak, while the Dow and the Nasdaq posted weekly gains.

The bellwether S&P 500 has hovered within a percent of its all-time high for the last five sessions.

“It’s been kind of an anemic market over the last few weeks,” said Matthew Keator, managing partner in the Keator Group, a wealth management firm in Lenox, Massachusetts. “There’s concern that the majority of the returns in 2019 were front-end loaded.”

U.S. retail sales in March blew past analyst expectations, rising at their fastest monthly pace in 1-1/2 years, according to the Commerce Department.

In a separate report, data from the Labor Department showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped last week to a 50-year low.

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Industrial stocks boosted the markets following upbeat quarterly results and remarks from China’s commerce ministry spokesman that progress has been made in U.S.-China trade talks.

With reporting season in full swing, January-March S&P 500 profits are expected to have dropped 1.7% year-on-year, which would mark the first decline in quarterly earnings since 2016.

Of the 77 S&P 500 companies that have released results thus far, 77.9% have beaten consensus, compared with the 65% average beat rate going back to 1994.

“Expectations were so low going into the quarter, there’s been some nice surprises,” Keator added.

Growing demand for aircraft parts drove Honeywell International Inc’s earnings beat. The company raised its full-year forecast, and its stock rose 3.8%.

Fewer catastrophe losses helped Travelers Companies Inc report higher-than-expected profit. The property & casualty insurer’s stock gained 2.3%.

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Union Pacific Corp shares advanced 4.4% after beating earnings estimates as price hikes helped the railroad offset the impact of severe weather and midwest floods.

Among earnings misses, Schlumberger NV reported a 20% drop in first-quarter profit. Its shares slipped 3.9%.

American Express Co’s quarterly revenue fell short of analyst estimates, but the stock ended the session up 1.7%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 110 points, or 0.42%, to 26,559.54, the S&P 500 gained 4.58 points, or 0.16%, to 2,905.03 and the Nasdaq Composite added 1.98 points, or 0.02%, to 7,998.06.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, seven closed in the black.

Industrials were the biggest percentage gainers, up 1.1%.

Online scrapbook company Pinterest Inc jumped 28.4% in its debut.

Meanwhile, Lyft Inc dropped 1.9%. The ride-hailing service’s stock is now trading 19% below its $72 offer price.

U.S. stock markets will be closed on Good Friday.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.07-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.05-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 35 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 44 new highs and 77 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.79 billion shares, in line with the average over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Susan thomas