U.S. stocks mostly climbed on Thursday, with the S&P 500 extending gains into a fourth session, as General Electric and Morgan Stanley were among the corporations reporting quarterly results that topped expectations.
"Earnings last night were pathetic and sad, and today they are not so bad," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.
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"I'm happy to see GE have good earnings today. It's hard to think of a business they are not involved in. They are just a great synthetic play to everything in the world. The other thing that was a surprise was that Morgan Stanley actually reported good earnings on fixed income," he added.
Goldman Sachs gained after reporting an 11 percent drop in first-quarter profit, as the brokerage's results surpassed estimates. UnitedHealth also reported a decline in first-quarter earnings, with its shares fallilng. Chipotle Mexican Grill shares rallied after the burrito chain tallied first-quarter sales that beat expectations. GE gained after posting a profit that edged beyond estimates. Morgan Stanley rose after the investment bank reported a gain in first-quarter income.
"The limbo stick is lying on the floor right now. They are just stepping over it," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, referring to the low expectations set ahead of first-quarter earnings.
"This is a stock market that got ahead of itself; the earnings have to catch up," Ablin added.
"IBM is certainly weighing on the Dow, and Google is weighing on the Nasdaq," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital, of the technology companies that reported disappointing results after Wednesday's close.
"Earnings so far haven't been all that negative, at least among the big names, so perhaps some of the worries were somewhat unfounded. But we're just at the beginning and we still have some big names to view," said Cardillo.
Rising as much as 35 points and falling 56, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 16.31 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,408.54, with GE pacing blue-chip gains and IBM and UnitedHealth Group the biggest weights among its 30 components.
The rose 2.54 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,864.85, with energy and industrials the best performing and utilities and technology the hardest hit among its 10 major sectors.
Word from Wal-Mart Stores that it was launching a domestic money transfer service to compete with Western Union hit shares of the latter, along with those of MoneyGram International, which currently provides money transfer services for Wal-Mart.
After a delayed start, Chinese microblogger Weibo made its market debut on the Nasdaq, with shares of the Twitter rival lately trading above its initial public offering at $17 per American Depository Share.
The Nasdaq added 9.29 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,095.52.
The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, fell 5.6 percent to 13.38.
For every two stocks falling, roughly three gained on the New York Stock Exchange, where 833 million shares traded. Composite volume cleared 3.3 billion.
Equities offered muted reaction to Ukraine developments, with Russia's foreign minister saying top diplomats agreed to steps towards reduced tensions in the country. "We worked hard and we worked in good faith in order to try and narrow our real differences, some of them significant," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference.
Stocks came off their lows after a gauge of manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region rose to 16.6 in April from 9.0 in March, with the latest read coming in above expectations.
Ahead of the open, stock futures held mild gains after the government reported 304,000 Americans filed for jobless benefits last week, less than the 315,000 estimated by analysts.
On Wednesday, stocks rallied as U.S. industrial production rose and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen reiterated the central bank would continue supporting the economy.
—By CNBC's Kate Gibson
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