S&P 500 little changed on housing as investors watch earnings

U.S. stocks were little changed, with benchmark indexes trading near seven-week lows, as Americans signed fewer contracts than forecast to purchase previously owned homes and investors monitored earnings.

A measure of homebuilders in S&P indexes declined 2 percent. Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. plunged 10 percent as the largest U.S. iron-ore producer reported third-quarter results that missed analysts’ estimates. Procter & Gamble Co., the world’s largest consumer-products maker, rallied 2.8 percent after reporting profit that topped analysts’ projections.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.1 percent to 1,410.20 at 3:22 p.m. New York time, trimming an earlier rally of 0.9 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 4.48 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 13,072.86. Trading in S&P 500 companies was 3 percent higher than the 30-day average at this time of day.

“The market is trying to digest a lot of reports,” said Walter Todd, who oversees about $940 million as chief investment officer of Greenwood Capital in Greenwood “For this earnings season, while expectations were fairly low, certain names are turning out to be worse than expected.”

Equities reversed earlier gains as seven out of 10 groups in the S&P 500 retreated. Fifty-four companies in the S&P 500 are scheduled to release results today. Earnings at about 71 percent of the index’s companies beat analysts’ estimates, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Third-quarter sales missed forecasts at 61 percent of companies, the data showed.

Economic Data

Orders for U.S. business equipment stalled in September, capping a quarterly slump that signals investment will cool in the second half of the year. Fewer Americans filed first-time applications for unemployment benefits last week as the seasonal volatility at the start of the quarter wound down.

The S&P 500 fell 1.8 percent over the previous two days amid concern about a worsening earnings picture. The index is still up 12 percent this year on speculation central bankers will keep economies expanding.

“The market is zigzagging each day on earnings,” said Paul Zemsky, the New York-based head of asset allocation for ING Investment Management, which oversees $170 billion. He spoke in a telephone interview. “Earnings did come out better-than- estimated yet revenue surprises are negative.”

Nine out of 11 stocks in a measure of homebuilders in S&P indexes retreated. PulteGroup Inc., the largest U.S. homebuilder by revenue, dropped 3.2 percent to $16.89. Toll Brothers Inc. retreated 3 percent to $34.21.

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