NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks were muted in afternoon trading on Wall Street Tuesday, as investors weighed solid corporate earnings results against concerns about the virus pandemic.
Blue chip companies like Johnson & Johnson and General Electric reported better-than-expected results. Wall Street faces renewed worries that troubles with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and the spread of new variants of coronavirus might delay a recovery from the pandemic.
The S&P 500 index was unchanged as of 1:18 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 38 points, or 0.1 percent to 30,998. The Nasdaq composite was up 0.1 percent.
Investors are in the midst of quarterly earnings reporting season for US companies, and this is the busiest week so far. Dozens of large companies are reporting this week, from all parts of the economy, including American Express, J&J, Apple, GE and others.
More than 100 companies in the S&P 500 are scheduled to tell investors this week how they fared during the last three months of 2020. As a whole, analysts expect S&P 500 companies to say their fourth-quarter profit fell 5 percent from a year earlier. That’s a milder drop than the 9.4 percent they were forecasting earlier this month, according to FactSet.
General Electric rose 4.6 percent after the industrial conglomerate reported a surge in cash flow. GE is attempting a turnaround after shedding unprofitable divisions and focusing more on big industrial products like jet engines and power equipment. Typically, when a company is in turnaround, investors care more about cash flow than quarterly profits because it shows the company is able to pay down debts.
American Express fell 3.5 percent despite reporting stronger-than-expected earnings. The company’s card holders continue to postpone travel, entertainment and dining out due to the pandemic, which has cut into its bottom line.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged higher to 1.04 percent from 1.02 percent late Monday.
In European stock markets, Germany’s DAX rose 1.7 percent, and France’s CAC 40 rose 0.9 percent. The FTSE 100 in London rose 0.2 percent.
Traders are keeping a wary eye on rising coronavirus infections in various countries and a bumpy rollout of vaccinations in the US The spread of variants that are thought to be more easily transmissible and might be less effectively targeted by existing vaccines is adding to alarm.
Vaccine maker Moderna said Monday that it will study whether a booster shot would be needed to protect against variants of the coronavirus, “out of an abundance of caution.”
“Nowadays the market mood is set by either the hopes that the COVID vaccine would mark the end of the biggest economic downturn of our lifetime, or the stimulus hopes to keep our heads above water. Yesterday, both hopes got smashed,” Ipek Ozkardeskaya, a senior analyst at Swissquote Bank, said in a commentary.
President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion plan to send $1,400 to most Americans and deliver other support for the economy. But his party holds only the slimmest possible majority in the Senate, making approval uncertain. Several Republicans have already voiced opposition to parts of the plan.
The vaccine rollout and hopes for more economic stimulus have been guiding more optimism toward an economic recovery this year, but the picture remains unclear.
“Not all of those things are playing out in a clear way,” said Sylvia Jablonski, chief investment officer of Defiance ETFs. “We don’t know yet how much of the stimulus will come out and when.”
AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed.