Stocks give up an early lead and end lower on Wall Street

Stocks capped a day of muted trading on Wall Street with slight losses Tuesday, giving back some of their modest gains from a day earlier.

The S&P 500 slipped 0.1% after spending much of the day drifting between small gains and losses. Declines in banks, industrial companies and elsewhere pulled the market lower. Gains in some Big Tech companies, including Amazon and Facebook, helped keep the losses in check.

Small-company stocks fell more than other areas of the market, while blue chip companies like Johnson & Johnson and General Electric climbed after reporting better-than-expected results. Treasury yields rose.


The market has been mostly making small moves since last week, keeping the stock indexes near their recent record highs, as investors weigh solid corporate earnings results against renewed worries that troubles with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and the spread of new variants of coronavirus might delay a recovery from the pandemic.

“Most major indexes are hovering near all-time highs, so for the market to be taking a little breather is not too surprising, given the ascent we’ve seen recently,” said Angelo Kourkafas, investment strategist at Edward Jones.

The S&P 500 lost 5.74 points to 3,849.62. The benchmark index is within 0.2% of the record high it set Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.96 points, or 0.1%, to 30,937.04. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slid 9.93 points, or 0.1%, to 13,626.06. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 13.42 points, or 0.6%, to 2,149.86.

Investors are in the midst of quarterly earnings reporting season for U.S. 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% from a year earlier. That’s a milder drop than the 9.4% they were forecasting earlier this month, according to FactSet.

“The major theme, not only today but this week, is earnings season,” Kourkafas said. “The early results are encouraging.”

General Electric climbed 2.7% 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.

Johnson & Johnson rose 2.7% after the company reported fourth-quarter results that cruised past Wall Street’s expectations. A big jump in prescription drug sales boosted the company’s revenue, but profits dove 57% due to higher research spending and one-time charges totaling $2.4 billion. The company also said it expects to share results from the late-stage study of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, which requires only one dose, by early next week.

American Express fell 4.1% 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.

Shares in GEO Group and CoreCivic, which operate prisons, slumped following news that the Biden administration will not be renewing federal government contracts with private prison operators. GEO Group slid 7.8%, while CoreCivic dropped 5.9%.

Meanwhile, traders are keeping a wary eye on rising coronavirus infections in various countries and a bumpy rollout of vaccinations in the U.S. 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.”

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. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are prepared to push ahead with the relief package, even if it means using procedural tools to pass the legislation without Republicans.

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.”

The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged higher to 1.04% from 1.02% late Monday.

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AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed.

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