February 4, 2019 / 6:38 PM / 19 days ago

US STOCKS-Tech boost pushes Wall Street to session highs

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* Ultimate Software jumps on $11 bln buyout deal

* Alphabet rises ahead of results due after-market

* Tech boost pushes all 3 indexes to session highs

* Allergan falls after cheaper Botox rival gets approval

* Indexes up: Dow 0.15 pct, S&P 0.33 pct, Nasdaq 0.90 pct (Updates to early afternoon)

By Medha Singh

Feb 4 (Reuters) - Wall Street gained on Monday to hit session highs boosted by technology shares ahead of Alphabet’s earnings, the last FAANG stock to post quarterly results.

FAANG earnings have been a mixed bag so far, with Apple Inc and Facebook Inc posting better-than-expected quarterly results last week, while Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc forecast downbeat current-quarter numbers.

Google parent Alphabet Inc rose 1 percent, and more than 2.5 percent gains in high-flying tech names such as Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp boosted the Nasdaq, leading the technology sector higher by 1.28 percent.

UnitedHealth Group Inc and Johnson & Johnson pulled the healthcare sector 0.68 percent lower, keeping gains in check for the blue-chip Dow and S&P 500.

Defensive consumer staples, utilities and real estate were also lower.

“We’re seeing the markets higher and it is an extension to the risk-on sentiment that we’ve been seeing since early January,” said Massud Ghaussy, senior analyst at Nasdaq IR Intelligence in New York.

At current levels, the benchmark S&P stood about 8 percent away from its Sept. 20 record close and was helped recently by signs of progress in U.S.-China trade talks and as the Federal Reserve pledged to be patient with further interest rate hikes.

A stronger-than-expected jobs report on Friday underscored strength in the domestic economy though concerns remained that a slowdown in the rest of the world could hurt U.S. earnings, with warnings from bellwethers including Caterpillar Inc.

“We’re starting off first quarter with a very high bar and it looks like it will be tough to beat,” Ghaussy said.

About 71 percent of nearly half of the S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, have exceeded analysts’ estimates, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Since the earnings season kicked off three weeks ago, analysts’ estimates for fourth-quarter profit growth have risen to 15.4 percent from 14.3 percent, but the forecast for the first quarter of 2019 has dropped to 0.5 percent from 3.4 percent.

At 1:12 p.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 37.77 points, or 0.15 percent, at 25,101.66, the S&P 500 was up 8.81 points, or 0.33 percent, at 2,715.34 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 65.61 points, or 0.90 percent, at 7,329.48.

Allergan Plc dropped about 4 percent after the FDA approved Evolus Inc’s cheaper version of blockbuster Botox. Evolus jumped 14.78 percent.

In a bright spot, Ultimate Software Group Inc surged 19.53 percent after the HR software provider agreed to be bought by an investor group led by Hellman & Friedman in a $11 billion deal.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 1.56-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.89-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded nine new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 55 new highs and 12 new lows. (Reporting by Medha Singh in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Amy Caren Daniel; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

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