U.S. stocks fluctuate as investors weigh economic data, earnings

‘Selling Everything’

Leon Black, chief executive officer of buyout firm Apollo Global Management LLC, said prices for traditional buyouts have risen so much that it’s a good time to sell.

“We think it’s a fabulous environment to be selling,” Black said today during a panel discussion at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles, adding that Apollo has sold about $13 billion in assets in the last 15 months. “We’re selling everything that’s not nailed down, and if we’re not selling, we’re refinancing.”

The Fed may consider maintaining its bond-buying program at a two-day meeting starting today, after a report last week showed the world’s largest economy grew less than forecast in the first quarter.

The central bank will probably continue its “aggressive” easing program this year, Former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.

The European Central Bank will cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low of 0.5% on May 2, according to the median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg survey.

Earnings Season

Invesco Ltd., Franklin Resources Inc. and 36 other S&P 500 companies report quarterly earnings today. Of the 306 that have reported so far, 73% exceeded analysts’ predictions, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Profit at S&P 500 companies rose 1.1% in the first three months of the year, according to analysts’ projections compiled by Bloomberg.

“Earnings season has been OK, but it’s not like it’s growing strongly,” Brad Thompson, director of research at Frost Investment Advisors LLC in San Antonio, Texas, said in a phone interview. His firm manages $9 billion. “We have a strong market with defensive sectors doing well. The key element here is when does it transition. I’ll get more confident when it broadens out and we get more cyclicals doing better. That’s going to be contingent on economic fundamentals.”

Companies whose earnings are least tied to economic swings led this year’s rally as gauges of health-care, utility and consumer-staples providers in the S&P 500 jumped at least 17%. Commodity and technology shares performed worst, rising no more than 8.3%.

Volatility Index

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, or VIX, slid 0.4% to 13.77 today. The gauge for options hit a six-year low in March and is down 24% this year amid reduced demand for protection against losses in the S&P 500.

Technology stocks rose the most among 10 industries, rallying 1%. The group has gained every day since April 19, jumping 5.6% over seven trading days, the most since March 2012.

Apple climbed 2.8% to $442.05. The company is issuing $3 billion of floating-rate notes and $14 billion of fixed-rate securities in six parts with maturities from three to 30 years, according to a person familiar with the offering.

Proceeds may help the company avoid so-called repatriation taxes on its $102.3 billion of funds held overseas as it returns an additional $55 billion to shareholders through 2015 to compensate for a stock that’s been hammered by signs of slowing growth. Apple has fallen 37% from its record $702.10 closing price in September.

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