US stocks edge higher in afternoon trading, extending gains

Posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 By Alex Veiga, AP Business Writer

U.S. stock indexes edged mostly higher in late-afternoon trading Wednesday, on track to extend modest gains from a day earlier.

Investors were reviewing the latest batch of company earnings reports and awaiting any signs of progress in latest round of trade negotiations between the U.S. and China.

Gains in financial, materials and industrial companies outweighed losses in health care and real estate stocks.

Garmin, maker of fitness trackers and navigation technology, rose after reporting better sales. CVS Health slumped after the pharmacy operator gave a 2019 outlook that fell short of Wall Street's expectations.

Roughly 81 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported results for the last three months of 2018, delivering earnings growth of 13.1 percent versus a year earlier, according to FactSet. First-quarter snapshots are expected to result in a 2.5 percent decline in earnings, however.

Despite the solid profit growth in the last quarter, investors are cautious about business conditions going forward as signs of weakness in the global economy emerge. Europe and China have both reported slower growth.

Trading has been mostly listless this week as investors wait for signs of progress in the trade talks between Washington and Beijing. Uncertainty over the costly trade dispute between the world's largest economies has clouded the outlook for company profits.

The afternoon release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting of policymakers had little impact on the market. Traders typically review the Fed meeting minutes in hopes of gleaning new insight into the central bank's interest rate policy.

At the meeting last month, Fed officials kept the central bank's benchmark interest rate steady and, in a significant shift, sent a strong signal that they saw no need to raise rates anytime soon. That change helped drive the stock market higher in January.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 56 points, or 0.2 percent, to 25,948 as of 3:17 p.m. Eastern Time. The benchmark S&P 500 index, which has risen for the past three weeks, gained 0.2 percent, while the Nasdaq composite slipped less than 0.1 percent. Major European indexes finished higher.

THE QUOTE: The Fed minutes didn't hold any big surprises for investors, who remain focused on the U.S.-China trade talks, noted Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

"They're really sitting on pins and needles as it relates to the trade talks," Stovall said.

TRADE TALKS: Negotiators for the U.S. and China resumed talks Tuesday following discussions in Beijing last week. U.S. officials said those talks made some progress on difficult issues such as China's blueprint for making its industries world leaders in advanced technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

The Trump administration has raised tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of Chinese goods and the U.S. is due to increase them on March 2, following a 90-day truce to allow time for the negotiations now underway. President Donald Trump has indicated the deadline might be extended if progress is being made.

Vice Premier Liu He, China's economy czar, was due to arrive in Washington on Thursday, China's state media reported, after two days of preliminary talks by lower-level officials.

FEELING FIT: Shares in Garmin jumped 16.7 percent after reporting better sales and profit margins in the fourth quarter. The company's latest forecast came in ahead of financial analysts' projections. The stock led all others in the consumer discretionary sector, which includes retailers, automakers and restaurant chains.

GET COMFORTABLE: La-Z-Boy surged 11 percent after the furniture company's latest quarterly earnings and revenue exceeded analysts' forecasts. The company benefited from higher average spending. Recent acquisitions also helped boost La-Z-Boy's results.

SOLID QUARTER: Cadence Design Systems climbed 4.6 percent after the software and engineering services company's latest quarterly results topped Wall Street's forecasts. The stock was among the technology sectors' biggest gainers.

UNDER THE WEATHER: CVS Health slumped 8 percent after the pharmacy operator issued a 2019 outlook that fell short of analysts' estimates. CEO Larry Merlo said in a prepared statement that 2019 would be "a year of transition" as the company integrates the health insurer Aetna, which it purchased in a roughly $69 billion deal last year. A federal judge is still evaluating the acquisition.

ENERGY: Oil prices rebounded after an early slide. U.S. benchmark crude rose 1.5 percent to settle at $56.92 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, gained 0.9 percent to close at $67.08 a barrel in London.

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