October 18, 2019 / 2:32 PM / 7 months ago

US STOCKS-Wall St treads water as earnings counter China data gloom; J&J falls

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* Coca-Cola rises on better-than-expected revenue

* J&J slips on move to recall a batch of baby powder

* Schlumberger gains on upbeat profit report

* China’s GDP growth grinds to near three-decade low

* Dow off 0.10%, S&P 500 flat, Nasdaq down 0.08% (Updates to open)

By Shreyashi Sanyal

Oct 18 (Reuters) - Wall Street struggled for direction on Friday as upbeat earnings reports calmed nerves about the global economy after China expanded at its weakest pace in almost 30 years, with Johnson & Johnson also weighing on the blue-chip Dow index.

Investors are closely tracking the health of the world’s second-largest economy as the bitter trade war with the United States fuels fears about a global recession.

While global equities fell on the third-quarter data, a raft of robust earnings from Coca-Cola Co and Schlumberger NV lifted the mood.

Coca-Cola Co shares gained 1.7% after the beverage maker beat analysts’ expectations for quarterly sales.

The company was the top boost to the consumer staples sector , which rose 0.4%, the most among the 11 major S&P sectors.

Credit card issuer American Express Co and oilfield services provider Schlumberger reported better-than-expected profits. While Schlumberger shares gained 3.3%, AmEx reversed early gains to trade down 1.6%.

“The move is a mix of a lot of things which aren’t all that negative or all that positive. It will be a quiet day, mainly driven by some earnings reports,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas.

Johnson & Johnson slipped 3.5% and pressured the Dow Jones Industrial Average the most.

The healthcare conglomerate said it would recall a single lot of its baby powder in the United States after the Food and Drug Administration found trace amounts of asbestos in samples taken from a bottle purchased online.

Still, the S&P 500 and Dow indexes were on pace to post their second straight week of gains, while the Nasdaq was set to rise for the third week in a row, as the earnings season kicked off on a strong note.

Analysts still expect third-quarter S&P 500 earnings to have fallen by 2.9%, according to Refinitiv data, the first contraction since mid-2016.

“The pessimism around the onset of earnings season was too strong but because of that, there is plenty of room for companies to outperform,” Frederick added.

At 9:59 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 26.87 points, or 0.10%, at 26,999.01, while the S&P 500 was down 0.06 points, or -0.00%, at 2,997.89. The Nasdaq Composite was down 6.90 points, or 0.08%, at 8,149.96.

Department store stores and other apparel retailers took a hit after Credit Suisse said weak third-quarter retail trends could continue into fall and holiday season.

The brokerage downgraded shares of Macy’s, Gap Inc and L Brands to “underperform”, pushing their shares down 3.5% and 7%. Nordstrom, Kohl’s Corp and Hanesbrands also fell between 1% and 5%.

The retail index dipped 0.1%.

Shares of E*Trade Financial Corp rose 5.8% after the online broker posted better-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.00-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.16-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 15 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 27 new highs and 15 new lows. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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