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Stocks close mostly higher as earnings kicks off; oil boosts energy 1.5%

U.S. stocks closed mixed on Tuesday as investors digested the first of the major earnings reports and moderate economic data. (Tweet This)

Stronger oil and JPMorgan Chase earnings boosted the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500.

"We're getting bit of a bifircated market here," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. "More good news than bad news in this very early start to earnings season."

Of the three major indices, only the Nasdaq traded in the red as Apple and the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB) held lower. The Russell 2000 also edged lower to close just below recent highs.

"The market is probably going to waffle here," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. There's no significantly bad news, but "at the same time nothing strong from the economic data to suggest that's a catalyst for us to move higher."

Crude oil gained nearly 3 percent after a forecasted decline in U.S. shale output and continued tensions in Yemen.

The energy sector closed up 1.7 percent to lead gains in the S&P 500, with only Valero Energy and CONSOL Energy declining. Chevron and Exxon Mobil were among the top blue chip advancers.

"Energy is helping certainly ... to push indices higher," said Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. "I wouldn't read too much into it. It could all disappear tomorrow. I think it's a trendless market until we get (more earnings)."

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"A lot of the movement in retail (energy stocks) is speculation that energy stocks have bottomed," said Lance Roberts, general partner at STA Wealth Management.

Despite the midday turnaround in the S&P and Dow, gains remained muted as earnings and data were mixed.

"Earnings are going to be the driving force for the next few weeks" until you start to see some commonality in the guidance, said Maris Ogg, president of Tower Bridge Advisors. "I think investors are going to be reacting to bad news as much as good news and I think the path of least resistance is still down."

JPMorgan Chase traded higher after reporting an earnings beat, briefly gaining more than 2 percent to trade above 15-year highs. Goldman Sachs also initially gained more than 1 percent to trade near 7-year highs.

JPMorgan's net income rose to $5.91 billion, or $1.45 per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, from $5.27 billion, or $1.28 per share, a year earlier, according to Reuters. CEO Jamie Dimon said the company is getting safer and stronger, as well as gaining market share.

"I think JPMorgan looks like a really well-run bank. They were able to execute on almost every measure except legal fees, but I guess that's the world we live in," said Kim Forrest, senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital. She is looking ahead to Intel's earnings after the bell to see if there are new areas where the company's products are being used.

Wells Fargo edged lower after the firm posted earnings of $1.04 per share, six cents above estimates, with revenue also above forecasts. The report did break an 18-quarter streak of higher year-over-year earnings, as the bank deals with the impact of a lower interest rate environment.

CSX reports after the bell on Tuesday. Bank of America and US Bancorp report earnings before the bell on Wednesday.

Johnson & Johnson beat on both the top and bottom lines but reported an 8.6 percent decline in quarterly profit as the impact of a strong dollar on overseas revenue offset growing sales of its mainstay older drugs.

"The market was looking to financials to show very strong earnings and a stronger economy but we're not getting that," said Marc Chaikin, CEO of Chaikin Analytics. He said the negative outlook on Norfolk Southern and real estate listings website Zillow were weighing on the market.

Norfolk Southern closed down more than 4 percent after reporting on Monday that it expected to earn $1 per share for the first quarter, below current consensus estimates of $1.25. The rail operator said slower coal volumes and a reduction in fuel surcharge revenue are among the factors weighing on the bottom line. The warning negatively hit other rail stocks, like Union Pacific.

Shares of Zillow closed a little more than 1 percent lower. Earlier, shares plunged after being halted in pre-market trade as the company issued guidance sharply below Street estimates.

Declines in rail stocks and airlines pressured the Dow transports, with losses counterbalanced by J. B. Hunt's 4.7 percent gain. The trucking and transportation logistics firm posted a positive earnings report on Tuesday.

Divergence between declines in transports and highs in the major indices, and a head-and-shoulders top in the Nasdaq is another bearish sign, Chaikin said. The Nasdaq composite has recently outperformed the major indices.

"With the market unable to punch through 2,100 on the S&P 500, people are very quick to take profits," he said.

STA's Roberts added that stocks have stayed within a range, closing near the high end on Friday.

"It's very important this market can recover what it lost yesterday and close this week higher than Friday," he said. "This sideways languishing we've been doing is not healthy."

Futures edged lower after morning economic reports. Retail sales showed an increase of 0.9 percent, slightly below expectations of a 1.1 percent month-on-month increase in overall spending. However, the figure was the first gain since late last year.

The Producer Price Index (PPI) showed an increase of 0.2 percent in March, in line with expectations and breaking four consecutive months of declines.

"It's not enough of a change to change my opinion that the economy is in decent shape," Clemons said, noting signs of strength in the labor and housing markets despite some soft data reports.

He expects the real strength in consumer spending will not show up in economic or corporate reports until the second quarter.

The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield gained to 1.90 percent after falling to 1.86 percent. The 2-year Treasury yield traded near 0.50 percent.

US 10-year Treasury yield 6-month performance

Bond yields fell immediately after the morning economic reports.

"I think across the board it's a little bit disappointing. People have been jumping all over March as spring rebound month. I think it's a little too early," said Bob Sinche, global strategist at Amherst Pierpont. "I think the bond market had come in a little bit short, expecting a good retail number."

"I don't think it's the end of the dollar rally. I think it was a bit overdone. $1.05 is a very difficult area for the euro to break through. it's got to be a dollar trade," he said, adding it needs stronger U.S. data to drive it.

The U.S. dollar edged lower after the data releases, with the euro climbing to just below $1.07.

"Obviously the bond market is not worried these numbers might inspire the Fed to raise rates in June," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "The economic was all not that negative but doesn't support the Fed raising rates in June."

Business inventories came in slightly above estimates, up 0.3 percent in February.

The National Federation of Independent Business said U.S. small business confidence fell in March as hiring and capital spending plans weakened, adding to signs that economic growth braked sharply in the first quarter.

While overall S&P 500 earnings are expected to be down by 2.9 percent, the profits of financial companies are expected to be 10.8 percent higher, according to Thomson Reuters.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 59.66 points, or 0.33 percent, at 18,036.70, with Chevron leading gains and Intel the greatest laggard.

The S&P 500 closed up 3.41 points, or 0.16 percent, at 2,095.84, with energy leading seven sectors higher and information technology the greatest laggard.

The Nasdaq closed down 10.96 points, or 0.22 percent, at 4,977.29.

Advancers were a step ahead of decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 689 million and a composite volume of about 3.3 billion in the close.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 14.

Crude oil futures settled up $1.38 at $53.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold futures settled down $6.70 to $1,192.60 an ounce.

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New York Fed President William Dudley said on Tuesday that the municipal bankruptcies in Detroit and Stockton, California, may foretell more widespread problems in the United States than is implied by current bond ratings, Reuters reported.

Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota was scheduled to speak at 8 p.m.

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Meanwhile in Europe, shares closed lower on Tuesday, amid investor caution over a European Central Bank (ECB) meeting this week and the official start of the first-quarter earnings season.

In other corporate news, Avon Products closed up 8 percent, after spiking 15 percent following news the firm is exploring strategic alternatives that could include sale of North American operations, sources told Dow Jones.

Shares of the Chinese classifieds site 58.com (WUBA) surged 33.5 percent following a Financial Times report that said the company had agreed to merge with a similar Chinese firm.

Finland's Nokia confirmed Tuesday that it is in "advanced" merger discussions with telecoms company Alcatel-Lucent, following rumors of a tie-up.

J.C. Penney is also in focus as a high-level official inadvertently disclosed nonpublic information regarding the company's comparable-store sales results for the fiscal first quarter of 2015 to a securities analyst via email.

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IBM is creating a new "Watson Health" unit, in an extension of its data analytics partnership with Apple. The new unit will provide data analytics to health care companies, using information gathered by Apple devices.

CNBC's Patti Domm and Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.

On tap this week:

Tuesday

Earnings: Intel, CSX, Linear Tech

8:00 p.m.: Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota

Wednesday

Earnings: Bank of America, US Bancorp, Burberry, Charles Schwab, PNC Financial, Netflix, SanDisk, Universal Forest Products, Progressive, ASML Holdings

8:30 a.m.: Empire State survey

9:00 a.m.: St. Louis Fed President James Bullard

9:15 a.m.: Industrial production

10:00 a.m.: NAHB survey

10:40 a.m.: Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, moderating IMF panel

2:00 p.m.: Beige Book

4:00 p.m.: TIC data

Thursday

Earnings: BlackRock, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Blackstone, American Express, Schlumberger, Celanese, Crown Holdings, UnitedHealth, Taiwan Semiconductor, Philip Morris, First Republic Bank, KeyCorp, Mattel, Sherwin-Williams, Sonoco Products, PPG Industries, WW Grainger

8:30 a.m.: Initial claims

8:30 a.m.: Housing starts

10:00 a.m.: Philadelphia Fed survey

1:00 p.m.: Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart

1:10 p.m.: Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester

1:30 p.m.: Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren

3:00 p.m.: Fed Vice Chairman Fischer on inflation at IMF spring meeting

Friday

Earnings: GE, Honeywell, Synchrony Financial, Comerica

8:30 a.m.: CPI

10:00 a.m.: Consumer sentiment

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