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US: Stocks advance ahead of corporate earnings reports


[WASHINGTON] US stocks rose for a fourth day amid gains in retailers as Inc climbed to a record, and investors awaited further indications on the strength of the world's biggest economy from corporate earnings reports.

Equities moved in a narrow range in light trading, with consumer shares taking the lead as commodity producers, October's best performers, retreated for a second day. The S&P 500 remained at a seven-week high, with energy stocks losing momentum after snapping on Friday their longest rally in six years.

The S&P 500 rose 0.1 per cent to 2,017.46 at 4 pm in New York, with the benchmark holding in an 8 point range amid the calmest day of trading since June. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 47.37 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 17,131.86. The Nasdaq Composite Index increased 0.2 per cent. About 5.1 billion shares traded hands on US exchanges, 30 per cent below the three-month average amid the Columbus Day holiday.

"As long as earnings are fair or better than the expectations, I think we're going to be OK," said Andrew Brenner, the head of international fixed income for National Alliance Capital Markets. "All of sudden people are saying, well, China's not so bad. Emerging markets are coming back. Oil is coming back. I'm looking for a grind higher."

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Profits at S&P 500 companies are projected to have fallen 7.2 per cent in the third quarter, with energy and materials companies showing the steepest drop, according to analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Alcoa unofficially kicked off the reporting season on Oct 8, with sales and profit missing estimates. Some 35 S&P 500 companies are scheduled to report results this week, including Johnson & Johnson, Intel Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co on Tuesday.

Investors are also listening for further hints on the Federal Reserve's policy intentions. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said the US economy may be strong enough to merit an interest-rate increase by the end of 2015, while noting that policy makers are also considering slower job growth and international developments. Mr Fischer spoke at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Lima on Sunday.

Fed Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart, speaking Monday to a group of economists in Orlando, Florida, repeated his view that he backs the first rate increase since 2006 by the end of the year. Chicago Fed's Charles Evans today also reiterated his view that a later liftoff may be the best policy as inflation struggles to gain traction.

The S&P 500 surged to its best week in 2015 after Fed meeting minutes last Thursday showed caution over raising interest rates even as the economy improves. That helped push expectations for an increase further into next year. Traders are now pricing in about a 39 per cent chance of a rate liftoff in December, with a 60 per cent probability of a March raise.