U.S. Stocks Rally Amid Corporate Earnings, Stimulus Speculation

  • Better-than-estimated quarterly results bolster optimism
  • ECB's Draghi hints at fresh stimulus amid growth risks

Reasons Behind Investors’ Anxiety in Markets

U.S. stocks rallied, heading toward their first gain in three days after a batch of better-than-estimated earnings from companies including McDonald’s Corp. and EBay Inc. boosted optimism on the health of corporate America.

Equities got a further lift from prospects Europe will move to bolster its economy. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said today policy makers will investigate fresh stimulus measures to thwart downside risks to the growth and inflation outlooks.

McDonald’s jumped the most in seven years and EBay headed for its biggest gain since 2012. Dow Chemical Co. advanced 5 percent after its earnings topped forecasts, and Texas Instruments added 10 percent after better-than-estimated results. American Express Co. lost 5.5 percent after results missed analysts’ forecasts. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. fell another 14 percent after tumbling 19 percent yesterday.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 1.7 percent to 2,052.22 at 12:35 p.m. in New York, rallying above its average price during the past 100 days. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 300.34 points, or 1.8 percent, to 17,468.95, while the Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 1.7 percent.

“Today’s rally is definitely being driven by what the ECB did,” said John Praveen, chief investment strategist at Prudential International Investments Advisers LLC, which manages about $1 trillion in assets. “That’s what’s really driving this rally and today’s risk-on environment. Earnings expectations were very, very low and it’s been easy to beat those expectations and that’s also been contributing to this rally.”

Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. release results after markets close, among 46 companies in the S&P 500 posting earnings today. Of those that have reported so far, 44 percent have topped sales estimates and 74 percent have beaten profit projections. Third-quarter earnings are projected to fall 6.7 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Meanwhile, volatility across global markets is dissipating after whipsawing stocks, bonds and commodities for two months. The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Market Risk Index is at its lowest level since August, while the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index of U.S. equity turbulence recently posted the longest streak of daily declines since 2009. The gauge known as the VIX fell 13 percent Thursday to 14.47, its lowest since Aug. 18 and is on track for its biggest monthly drop ever.

With the earnings season gathering pace, investors are looking to corporate America for clues on the strength of the economy as the Federal Reserve considers raising interest rates for the first time since 2006. Mixed data in the U.S. and volatile financial markets kept the central bank from tightening last month and reduced expectations for an increase this year.

March is the first month for which traders are pricing in at least even odds of a liftoff, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The probability of a boost this month is now only 6 percent, and about 32 percent for December.

A report today showed sales of previously owned homes rose in September to the second-highest level since February 2007, the latest sign that the recovery in residential real estate will support growth in the world’s largest economy. Separate data showed fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, while the four-week average was the lowest in four decades.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a lightening rod during Wednesday’s session was on track for a two-year low as it lost 14 percent. Citron Research, a stock commentary site published by short seller Andrew Left, claimed in a report yesterday that Valeant had recorded fake sales to phony customers, using closely associated specialty pharmacies to help drive the business. Valeant called Citron’s accusations “erroneous” and denied the report.

A BMO Capital Markets analyst who has advised buying the stock for more than two years downgraded the shares today, citing questions about Valeant’s close ties to pharmacies that distribute its drugs.

Nine of the S&P 500’s 10 major groups rallied Thursday, with eight posting gains in excess of 1.4 percent. Industrial and raw-material companies led, with each rising more than 2.7 percent.

United Rentals Inc. surged 11 percent, the most in two years after its results beat expectations and it reaffirmed its revenue forecast. Southwest Airlines Co. and Stanley Black & Decker Inc. rose more than 6.2 percent, joining in to lead gains among industrials after their earnings also exceeded analysts’ estimates. Southwest helped buoy a 3.4 percent gain for an index of airline companies, which rose to the highest level since May. Delta Airlines Inc. rose 2.9 percent, on track for an all-time high. 

Health-care stocks were the benchmark gauge’s only laggard, falling 1 percent. Seven members of an S&P index of these companies fell more than 5 percent. Tenet Healthcare Corp. sank 18 percent, the most since 2008 after another hospital operator, Community Health Systems Inc. reported preliminary earnings that disappointed. Universal Health Services Inc. slumped 11 percent, the most since 2011.

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