REUTERS - Wall Street inched higher in muted trading on Thursday, propped up by financial stocks, as investors turn their focus on corporate earnings season.
Bank of America and Wells Fargo posted lower quarterly profits and increased reserves to cover bad loans from their stressed energy portfolios.
The results come a day after JPMorgan beat tempered expectations for first-quarter profit and revenue, fueling a rally on Wall Street.
Shares of Bank of America were up 3.4 percent in choppy trading on Thursday, while those of Wells Fargo were mostly flat, after recouping earlier losses.
The S&P financial sector is down more than 3 percent for the year - easily the worst performer among the 10 major S&P sectors - weighed down by the uncertainty surrounding U.S. interest rates and potential defaults in the energy sector.
“We’re kind of a in a ‘boring-to-nice’ market for stocks,” said Len Blum, managing partner of Blum Capital Advisors in New York, adding that bank earnings typically spark some volatility as they are considered to be a proxy for economic activity.
“It’s just a continuing story of ‘wait and see what the rest of earnings season is,’” he said.
At 12:42 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 34.72 points, or 0.19 percent, at 17,943, the S&P 500 was up 3.11 points, or 0.15 percent, at 2,085.53 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 5.86 points, or 0.12 percent, at 4,953.28.
Seven of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. Financials were up 0.45 percent.
Earnings at S&P 500 companies are expected to fall 7.8 percent on average in the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Data on Thursday showed U.S. consumer prices barely rose in March, while jobless claims fell more than expected and sank to levels last seen in 1973.
The data could add to speculation about when the Fed will pull the trigger on interest rates, with the market pricing in only one hike this year and the central bank projecting two.
Oil steadied after the International Energy Agency trimmed its forecast for demand growth, but said U.S. oil output was falling fast. [O/R]
Seagate Technology shares were down 18.8 percent at $27.53 as the hard-disk maker’s disappointing third-quarter estimates prompted a slew of price target cuts. Western Digital fell 8.2 percent $41.16.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,621 to 1,262. On the Nasdaq, 1,456 issues rose and 1,231 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 17 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 38 new highs and 10 lows.
Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan and Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva