U.S. Stocks End Month Higher Despite Soft Data

By Corrie Driebusch and Mike Bird Features Dow Jones Newswires

U.S. stocks ended the month higher, as investors largely brushed off weak economic data and instead focused on corporate earnings.

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The S&P 500 is within about half a percentage point of all-time highs and ended the week up 1.5%, putting its April gains at 0.9%. Much of the reason for the gains: Profits are on the upswing.

With nearly 300 companies in the S&P 500 having reported, first-quarter earnings are on track to rise 12% from the year prior, according to FactSet. That's above the first-quarter earnings growth of 9.1% that analysts estimated as of March 31.

On Friday, shares of Chevron and Exxon Mobil climbed after posting encouraging earnings results. Exxon's shares rose 0.5% after the oil and gas giant said its profit more than doubled in the first quarter, while Chevron's stock gained 1.2% after the No. 2 energy company in the U.S. swung to a profit in the first three months of the year.

The S&P 500 slipped 0.2% Friday, while U.S. government bonds weakened slightly, sending yields higher, as data showed rising inflation despite lackluster economic growth. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down 41 points, or 0.2%, to 20941.

Gross domestic product rose 0.7% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, the Commerce Department said, falling short of the 1% growth expected by economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal. However, that exceeded the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's widely-tracked GDPNow model, which on Thursday forecast 0.2% growth for the first quarter.

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There were other positive signals in the data. U.S. wages and benefits rose at the fastest pace since 2007 during the first quarter, signaling a tightening labor market. The Fed's preferred inflation gauge also rose at a rate of 2.4% in the first quarter, its biggest jump since spring 2011.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was 2.282%, according to Tradeweb, up from 2.298% Thursday. So far this month, yields have declined nearly 0.1 percentage point.

Still, some analysts said they were concerned with the GDP number and what it could mean.

"We need greater growth," said Kent Engelke, chief economic strategist at Capitol Securities Management. "Are we having inflation and slow growth and unfolding into a stagflation environment? I'm not saying we're there yet, but it is something to worry about because it could hurt corporate profits."

Earlier, the euro and government bond yields jumped on surprisingly strong eurozone inflation figures. The Stoxx Europe 600 index slipped 0.2%.

Official figures showed the eurozone's core inflation rate -- which excludes volatile food and energy prices -- at 1.2%, the highest level since 2013. Analysts were expecting a rise of 1%.

The euro was recently up 0.2% against the dollar at $1.089.

Despite the cooling in European stocks toward the end of the week, the Stoxx Europe 600 is up 1.6% for April, its third consecutive month of gains. In the week ended April 26, European equity funds recorded their strongest inflows in more than a year, according to EPFR Global data.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed down 0.3%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.3%. China's Shenzhen A-share index bucked the trend, rising 0.4%.

South Korea's Kospi closed 0.2% lower after President Donald Trump said he wanted to renegotiate a trade deal with the country, in an interview with Reuters.

--Ese Erheriene contributed to this article

Write to Corrie Driebusch at corrie.driebusch@wsj.com and Mike Bird at Mike.Bird@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 28, 2017 16:30 ET (20:30 GMT)