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US: Wall Street edges higher on generally positive earnings

[NEW YORK] US stocks ended slightly higher on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 inching closer to its all-time high following a string of mostly positive earnings, while a drop in healthcare shares limited the advance.

All three major US stock indexes ended the session in positive territory, with the S&P 500 hovering within a percentage of its record high reached in September.

Bank of America Corp, Johnson & Johnson, BlackRock Inc, UnitedHealth Group Inc and others posted quarterly earnings that surpassed analyst expectations.

But stock movements following the reports were mixed.

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"You see different numbers and different drivers," said John Lynch, chief investment strategist for LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina. "We've had some mixed messages from financials and healthcare."

With reporting season in full swing, analysts now expect first quarter S&P 500 profits to have dropped 1.8 per cent year-on-year, according to Refinitiv data. While a solid improvement over recent estimates, it would still mark the first earnings decline since 2016.

Of the 42 S&P 500 companies that have posted thus far, 81 per cent have beaten consensus, compared with the 65 per cent average beat rate going back to 1994.

Johnson & Johnson came in above analyst estimates, mostly attributable to sales growth at its pharmaceuticals unit, driving the stock 1.1 per cent higher.

But UnitedHealth Group, which also reported better-than-anticipated first-quarter profit and hiked its 2019 earnings forecast, fell four per cent, likely due to regulatory worries. The stock was the biggest drag on the Dow.

Rivals Anthem Inc and Cigna Corp also slid, dropping 6.8 per cent and 7.8 per cent, respectively.

The S&P 500 Healthcare Index closed down 2.0 per cent.

The second biggest US bank by assets, Bank of America missed revenue expectations but its profit beat forecasts due to cost cutting and loan increases. Its shares edged up 0.1 per cent.

BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, gained 3.2 per cent after blowing past Street expectations and raking in US$65 billion in new investor cash in the first quarter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 67.89 points, or 0.26 per cent, to 26,452.66, the S&P 500 gained 1.48 points, or 0.05 per cent, to 2,907.06 and the Nasdaq Composite added 24.21 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 8,000.23.

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

Financials were the biggest percentage winners, rising 1.4 per cent.

Streaming company Netflix Inc dipped in after-hours trading after it posted first quarter results.

International Business Machines Corp also fell post-market following the blue-chip tech company's earnings report.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.23-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.28-to-1 ratio favoured advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 57 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 96 new highs and 41 new lows.

Volume on US exchanges was 6.57 billion shares, compared to the 6.87 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

REUTERS