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US: Wall Street closes slightly higher, industrials lead

[NEW YORK] Industrials led the S&P 500 and the Dow moderately higher on Thursday after robust US economic data and some healthy corporate earnings reports.

All three major US stock indexes closed in positive territory heading into the three-day weekend.

For the holiday-shortened week, the S&P snapped its three-week winning streak, while the Dow and the Nasdaq posted weekly gains.

The bellwether S&P 500 has hovered within a per cent of its all-time high for the last five sessions.

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"It's been kind of an anemic market over the last few weeks," said Matthew Keator, managing partner in the Keator Group, a wealth management firm in Lenox, Massachusetts. "There's concern that the majority of the returns in 2019 were front-end loaded."

US retail sales in March blew past analyst expectations, rising at their fastest monthly pace in one and a half years, according to the Commerce Department.

In a separate report, data from the Labor Department showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped last week to a 50-year low.

Industrial stocks boosted the markets following upbeat quarterly results and remarks from China's commerce ministry spokesman that progress has been made in US-China trade talks.

With reporting season in full swing, January-March S&P 500 profits are expected to have dropped 1.7 per cent year-on-year, which would mark the first decline in quarterly earnings since 2016.

Of the 77 S&P 500 companies that have released results thus far, 77.9 per cent have beaten consensus, compared with the 65 per cent average beat rate going back to 1994.

"Expectations were so low going into the quarter, there's been some nice surprises," Mr Keator added.

Growing demand for aircraft parts drove Honeywell International Inc's earnings beat. The company raised its full-year forecast, and its stock rose 3.8 per cent.

Fewer catastrophe losses helped Travelers Companies Inc report higher-than-expected profit. The property & casualty insurer's stock gained 2.3 per cent.

Union Pacific Corp shares advanced 4.4 per cent after beating earnings estimates as price hikes helped the railroad offset the impact of severe weather and midwest floods.

Among earnings misses, Schlumberger NV reported a 20 per cent drop in first-quarter profit. Its shares slipped 3.9 per cent.

American Express Co's quarterly revenue fell short of analyst estimates, but the stock ended the session up 1.7 per cent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 110 points, or 0.42 per cent, to 26,559.54, the S&P 500 gained 4.58 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 2,905.03 and the Nasdaq Composite added 1.98 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 7,998.06.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, seven closed in the black.

Industrials were the biggest percentage gainers, up 1.1 per cent.

Online scrapbook company Pinterest Inc jumped 28.4 per cent in its debut.

Meanwhile, Lyft Inc dropped 1.9 per cent. The ride-hailing service's stock is now trading 19 per cent below its US$72 offer price.

US stock markets will be closed on Good Friday.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.07-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.05-to-1 ratio favoured decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 35 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 44 new highs and 77 new lows.

Volume on US exchanges was 6.79 billion shares, in line with the average over the last 20 trading days.

REUTERS