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

U.S. stocks fluctuated between gains and losses, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index trading near a record high, as a rise in consumer confidence offset a drop in business activity and investors weighed earnings data.

Apple Inc. climbed 2.8% as the iPhone maker is said to be selling $17 billion of bonds in the biggest U.S. corporate offering on record. Avon Products Inc. gained 3.7% after earnings topped analysts’ forecasts. Pfizer Inc. dropped 3.6% as the world’s biggest drugmaker reported earnings that fell short of analysts’ projections. Newmont Mining Corp. lost 6.1% as the biggest U.S. gold producer reported profit that missed estimates.

The S&P 500 added 0.1% to 1,594.57 as of 3:20 p.m. in New York, after falling as much as 0.5% earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 2.36 points, or less than 0.1%, to 14,816.39. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was in line with the 30-day average at this time of day.

“People have seen what the market has been doing and so they just continue to tiptoe into equities,” Jason Cooper, who helps oversee $2.5 billion in South Bend, Indiana, at 1st Source Investment Advisors, said in a phone interview. “In that same regard, a lot of people are ready to say ‘hey, this thing can’t go any further. Go slow about it.’ They’re willing to pull out if things get bad.”

Confidence among U.S. consumers climbed more than forecast in April to a five-month high as Americans’ outlook for the economy and their incomes improved, according to a gauge from the Conference Board. The S&P/Case-Schiller index of property values in 20 cities showed residential real-estate prices increased in February by the most since May 2006, a sign that the U.S. housing market is strengthening.

Business Activity

Business activity in the U.S. unexpectedly shrank in April for the first time in more than three years, the MNI Chicago Report’s business barometer showed.

The Bloomberg Economic Surprise Index, which measures the degree to which economic data exceeded or missed projections, slipped today to minus 0.083, the lowest level since October. The measure peaked at 0.45 in February.

The S&P 500 has climbed 1.6% in April for a sixth monthly advance, the longest streak since September 2009. The bull market in U.S. equities entered its fifth year last month and the gauge has surged 136% from a 12-year low in 2009, driven by better-than-estimated corporate earnings and three rounds of bond purchases by the Federal Reserve.

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