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Searching for corporate sales amid housing data

Earnings retain the spotlight on Wednesday, with several more blue chips and technology heavyweights set to report.

Among the 31 companies reporting on Wednesday, Boeing, Coca-Cola and McDonald's post results before the bell. AT&T, eBay, Facebook, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments are among those reporting after the close Wednesday.

"I think it's all earnings. I think it's a mixed bag," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group. "Earnings season relative to expectations is better than expected, but 'better than expected' is normal."

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

He pointed to the more concerning trend of revenue misses, with fewer than half of companies topping sales expectations.

On Tuesday, weak revenue reports from Travelers, DuPont and IBM dragged the Dow Jones industrial average lower by as much as 105 points. The blue chip index closed down 85 points at 17,949.

The S&P 500 also closed lower near the flatline, off just 3 points, or 0.15 percent, at 2,097, as the energy sector fell 1 percent with the decline in oil.

The trend of earnings beats and revenue misses continued after the close, with Chipotle and Yum among those falling short.

On the flip side, merger and acquisition news in pharmaceuticals boosted biotechs and sent the Nasdaq higher as the only major index to close in the black.

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S&P Capital IQ data showed 62 deals valued at $1 billion or more, on pace for the greatest pace of billion-dollar deals since 2007. More than a quarter of this year's billion-dollar announcements are from the health-care sector, S&P's Richard Peterson said in a Tuesday note.

While the focus is on earnings, analysts will look to three housing market reports on Wednesday for indications on economic growth. Weekly mortgage applications comes at 7 a.m., followed by the FHFA Home Price Index for February at 9 a.m.

March existing home sales at 10 a.m. is expected to show a 3 percent increase from the previous month to an annual rate of 5.03 million, according to analysts polled by Reuters.

"I think the housing data recovery has been pretty tepid. We expect that to continue," said Alan Skrainka, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth Management.

"Managers that we talk to express a great deal of caution," he added. "I think the caution is due to (the fact that) we haven't seen liftoff in the US. … Growth is nonexistent in Europe. Chinahas slowed. I think the Fed is setting the tone, and right now the momentum is to the upside."

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To be sure, Wednesday's data is mostly looking back to a season affected by winter weather and may not give investors enough evidence for better growth in the second quarter.

"What's interesting about all the housing-related data is it's been going sideways," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. He noted a 1.2 percent increase in February existing home sales that followed a 4.9 percent decline in January.

To Frederick and other analysts, new home sales on Thursday are of more interest as the data point has shown more positive momentum than other parts of the housing market.

Oil also remains in focus as it holds just below highs for 2015. Investors will watch the U.S. Energy Information Administration's report at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday for further indications on supply pressure. Analysts polled by Reuters expect an increase of 2.38 million barrels, extending 14 consecutive weeks of gains.

Last week, an encouraging slowdown in crude oil inventories sent oil prices nearly 6 percent higher for the day to $56.39 a barrel.

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Oil prices extended losses to near session lows in late Tuesday trade after the American Petroleum Institute reported a greater-than-expected increase in crude stocks of 5.5 million barrels. Crude stocks at Cushing, Oklahoma, also increased.

Earlier, oil also declined following Saudi Arabia's announced end of its military campaign in Yemen, easing pressure on supply concerns. Crude oil settled down $1.12, or 1.99 percent, at $55.26 a barrel on Tuesday, short of the key $56 level analysts watch for but still within the recent range of about $45 to $55 a barrel.

"I do believe we've made a bottom," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

"The price of oil will remain in a trading range because of geopolitical fears and perhaps the market moving toward a fundamental stronghold because it appears demand is getting in line again," Cardillo said.

—Reuters contributed to this report.