U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed Thursday, with financials rising for a fifth straight day after some major bank earnings.
The Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 squeezed out gains, with the Dow ending at its highest since July 20, 2015, and the S&P at its highest since Dec. 4. (Tweet This)
There's "some uncertainty surrounding Sunday's meeting in Doha. You have expiration tomorrow. That's keeping things quiet ahead of the weekend. The trend (in stocks) is unambiguously higher," said Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities.
The Nasdaq composite ended less than 2 points lower, weighed by a 20 percent plunge in shares of Seagate Technology.
The financials sector closed up 0.27 percent for its first five-day win streak since July. The sector is up 4.25 percent for the week so far as the top S&P performer, but still the worst year-to-date.
"Really the interesting thing to be taken from the financials so far is the consumer is doing OK and I think that's why the market is doing so well and hanging in there today," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.
Bank of America reported an 18 percent slide in quarterly profit as concerns about a global economic slowdown and uncertainty about the pace of U.S. interest rate increases dampened bond and stock trading. However, management noted benefit to the quarter from "good consumer and commercial banking activity." The stock closed up 2.5 percent, still more than 15 percent lower year-to-date.
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Wells Fargo reported a as the third-largest U.S. bank by assets set aside more money to cover bad loans, mainly to energy companies. Shares of Wells Fargo closed 0.49 percent lower.
BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, posted a on Thursday amid a dramatic reversal in financial markets. The stock closed up 1.9 percent.
Citigroup is due to report earnings on Friday.
U.S. crude oil futures settled down 26 cents, or 0.62 percent, at $41.50 a barrel.
Ahead of Sunday's highly anticipated meeting of producers in Doha, Qatar, the International Energy Agency (IEA) trimmed its forecast for demand growth but said a fall in U.S. oil output was accelerating.
"Everything is pretty muted gains and losses today, which isn't bad after yesterday's gains," said Nick Raich, CEO of The Earnings Scout.
"Second quarter (earnings) should come in a little better than what we're seeing in the first quarter. This should be a low point in earnings and sales," he said.
Financials rallied Wednesday following JPMorgan's earnings beat to help the major stock indexes close at their highest levels of the year so far.
"I think you're definitely getting a relief rally based on ... the earnings (are) actually OK. The earnings weren't great but they kind of met expectations," said Peter Coleman, head trader at Convergex.
In U.S. economic news, weekly jobless claims declined to a seasonally adjusted 253,000, revisiting a level last seen in 1973.
The consumer price index rose 0.1 percent last month. In the 12 months through March, the core CPI that strips out food and energy costs, rose 2.2 percent after gaining 2.3 percent in February, Reuters said.
"It just tells us we're not getting much closer to that section of the dual mandate," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.
Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said Thursday in a Reuters report that slower-than-expected U.S. economic growth and inflation that is not yet clearly firming mean that caution and patience is "the right posture" for monetary policy. Earlier, he said on an interview with Bloomberg Radio that while he no longer expects to advocate for a U.S. interest rate hike in April, there is still time for two or three rate hikes this year.
Treasury yields held higher, with the near 0.77 percent and the 10-year yield around 1.79 percent. The Treasury auctioned $12 billion of 30-year bonds at a high yield of 2.596 percent.
The U.S. dollar index was slightly higher, with the euro near $1.126 and the yen at 109.38 yen against the greenback.
Gold futures for June delivery settled down $21.80 at $1,226.50 an ounce.
The rally in stocks "is getting a little overcooked here," said John Caruso, senior market strategist at RJO Futures.
"You've got your safe havens liquidating at the moment," he said.
As of Thursday's close, the major U.S averages are on pace for weekly gains of nearly 2 percent. The Dow and S&P are within 2.5 percent of their 52-week intraday highs touched last May.
"It's perfectly normal to see the market pause here for two reasons," said Adam Sarhan, CEO of Sarhan Capital. "First, to digest the very strong rally we've had in the last two days, and we're pausing right below key resistance levels, which are last year's highs."
"Today's action is very constructive," he said.
European stocks were slightly higher, while in Asia the Nikkei 225 surged 3.2 percent and the Shanghai composite closed half a percent higher.
The closed up 0.36 points, or 0.02 percent, to 2,082.78, with energy leading six sectors higher and consumer staples the greatest decliner.
The Nasdaq composite closed down 1.53 points, or 0.03 percent, at 4,945.89.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, held below 14.
Decliners were a step ahead of advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 878 million and a composite volume of nearly 3.7 billion in the close.
On tap this week:
Earnings: Citigroup, Charles Schwab
8:30 a.m. Empire State survey
9:15 a.m. Industrial production
10 a.m. Consumer sentiment
12:50 p.m. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans
4 p.m. Feb TIC data
*Planner subject to change.
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