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."
"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.
"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)."
"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.
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.
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.