NEW YORK – U.S. stocks crept higher on Tuesday, putting the market on track for its third gain in a row, as traders turned their attention to a batch of corporate deals and the upcoming earnings season.
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KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose eight points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,088 as of 12:20 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 91 points, or 0.5 percent, to 17,972, while the Nasdaq composite picked up 29 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,946.
The market hasn't managed to string three days of gains together since the middle of February.
VIEW: Terry Sandven, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, thinks the market is likely to inch cautiously higher until big corporations start turning in earnings later this week. Alcoa kicks off the first-quarter earnings season when it reports results after the closing bell on Wednesday. Bad news could make for turbulent trading.
"Equities are trading near all-time highs while earnings expectations get set lower," he said. "That's just not sustainable."
WINTER BLAHS: Analysts have put the bar for first-quarter profits very low, a result of the stronger dollar and low oil prices squeezing revenues. They expect overall earnings to shrink 3 percent compared with the same quarter of last year, according to S&P Capital IQ. If those forecasts come true, it would be the first earnings drop since 2009.
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DELIVERY: FedEx said it reached an agreement to take over TNT Express, one of Europe's largest delivery companies, for 4.4 billion euros, or $4.8 billion. If shareholders approve it, the companies expect to wrap up the deal in the first half of 2016. FedEx's stock surged $4.89, or 3 percent, to $171.61.
DEALS: Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway plans to take a nearly 10 percent stake in Axalta Coating Systems, which makes specialized coatings for cars and trucks. Berkshire is buying 20 million shares for $28 from The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. Axalta, which went public in November, jumped $1.97, or 7 percent, to $30.30.
EUROPE: In Europe's first day of trading since the Easter holidays, Germany's DAX finished with a gain of 1.3 percent, while France's CAC-40 rose 1.5 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 climbed 1.9 percent.
RATE SIGNAL: Investors were reassured by comments from William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve's New York branch, who said on Monday that rate increases will be "shallow." That added weight to the belief that the Fed will wait until the fall before raising its key lending rate. The Fed has held that rate near zero since the financial crisis, helping to drive a rally in stock markets.
ASIA'S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.5 percent and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 added 1.3 percent. South Korea's Kospi was steady and India's Sensex declined 0.6 percent. Hong Kong's market was closed for a holiday.
CRUDE: Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose $1.55 to $53.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 1.91 percent from 1.90 percent Monday.