S&P, Nasdaq slip from record levels as earnings season gains speed

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The S&P and Nasdaq slipped on Tuesday from record closing levels as investors digested a batch of corporate earnings results, while an expected policy announcement from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday helped to limit moves.

3M Co climbed 3.26% as one of the biggest boosts on the Dow after it benefited from lower costs and demand for disposable respirator masks, hand sanitizers and safety glasses amid a surge in coronavirus infections.

Johnson & Johnson also provided a strong lift, up 2.71% as the drugmaker said it expected to report eagerly awaited COVID-19 vaccine data early next week.

Of the 84 companies in the S&P 500 that posted earnings through Tuesday morning, 86.9% have topped analyst expectations, according to Refinitiv data.

Still, some companies showed the toll the pandemic has had on their businesses. American Express Co fell 4.13% and was the biggest drag on the Dow after it posted a 15% drop in quarterly profit as pandemic-led lockdowns and business restrictions kept the credit card issuer’s members from traveling and dining out.

Verizon lost 3.17% after the company posted earnings that topped expectations but missed prepaid phone subscriber estimates.

“It is still somewhat the early days but we are getting into the heart of it here,” said Tim Ghriskey,┬áchief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.

“Expectations are for a continuation of the massive positive surprises we saw last quarter. The risk is that if the expectations are already there and there are disappointments, you get stocks like you see in American Express today getting slammed.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 22.96 points, or 0.07%, to 30,937.04, the S&P 500 lost 5.74 points, or 0.15%, to 3,849.62 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.93 points, or 0.07%, to 13,626.07.

For the Nasdaq, the decline snapped a five-session streak of gains, its longest run of daily gains since early November.

After the closing bell, Microsoft shares rose 5.20% as the tech giant beat Wall Street estimates for revenue growth in its Azure cloud comuting business as it benefits from a global shift to home learning and working.

Few, if any, changes are expected in the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy statement at the end of a two-day meeting on Wednesday, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell likely to address inflation in his post-meeting news conference.

With the S&P 500 trading at more than 22 times 12-month forward earnings, concerns about stock bubbles on Wall Street are sparking fears of a pullback. Investors are keeping an eye out for forecasts from corporate America to justify the higher valuations.

(Graphic: S&P 500 Forward PE: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/jznpnmqelvl/Pasted%20image%201611689702592.png)

Progress in stimulus talks is in focus, with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying Democrats will move forward on President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan without Republican support if necessary.

Videogame retailer GameStop Corp climbed 92.71% after surging 144% on Monday, as individual investors again piled into a number of niche stocks, prompting short sellers to scramble to cover losing bets.

General Electric Co jumped 2.73 after the industrial conglomerate offered an upbeat outlook for its business this year and reported a surge in quarterly free cash flow. [L4N2K12D8]

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 14.30 billion shares, compared with the 13.62 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.31-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.65-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 29 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 291 new highs and 9 new lows.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Dan Grebler)