Market treads water before Friday's employment data
By Rodrigo Campos | February 1, 2013 5:42 AM EST
Stocks were little changed on Thursday as investors were cautious after a mixed bag of economic data, while stellar earnings from chipmaker Qualcomm helped the Nasdaq index to edge higher.
The S&P 500 is on track to post its best month since October 2011 and its best January since 1997.
Investors expect a pullback in equities after the recent gains, though they have bought on dips over the past four weeks. The largest daily decline on the S&P 500 so far in 2013 was Thursday's 0.39 percent drop after data showed the economy contracted in the fourth quarter of 2012.
"This is a highly rotational market," said Janelle Nelson, portfolio analyst at RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis, noting how investors dive into beaten-down sectors on the smallest encouraging news.
Data on Thursday that showed a slight rise in weekly jobless claims while incomes grew at the best pace since 2004 underscored how fragile the economic recovery still was.
On Friday the government is due to release figures on January's non-farm payrolls, which are expected to show employers added 160,000 jobs in January after a rise of 155,000 in December. Friday will also bring reports on consumer confidence, U.S. manufacturing, construction spending and car sales.
"The market's lack of movement is due in part to the large number of economic releases coming out tomorrow," said Nelson.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 19.72 points or 0.14 percent, to 13,890.7, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 1.68 points or 0.11 percent, to 1,500.28 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 3.04 points or 0.1 percent, to 3,145.35.
The S&P 500 has advanced more than 5 percent in January after legislators in Washington temporarily sidestepped a "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could have derailed the recovery. Better-than-expected corporate earnings have added to the gains.
It would be the benchmark's largest monthly advance since a more than 6 percent gain in October 2011 and the best January advance since a 6.1 percent jump in 1997.
Tank barge operator Kirby Corp
Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning shows that of the 231 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings this season, 69.3 percent have exceeded expectations, a higher proportion than over the past four quarters and above the average since 1994.
Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings are forecast to have risen 3.7 percent. That's above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season but well below a 9.9 percent profit growth forecast on October 1, the data showed.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; editing by Bernadette Baum and Kenneth Barry)