US stocks open higher as investors wait for company earnings, minutes from latest Fed meeting

Energy Associated Press

U.S. stocks opened higher as investors waited for the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting later Wednesday. Investors were also waiting for companies to start reporting their first-quarter earnings. Alcoa, a metals company, will be one of the first major companies to report earnings after the close of the market.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained nine points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,085, as of 10:06 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 88 points, or 0.5 percent, to 17,962. The Nasdaq composite gained 33 points, or 0.7 percent, to 4,944.

NOTES OF A MEETING: Investors will pore over the minutes from the Federal Reserve's March meeting when they are released later Wednesday. Policy makers have hinted that they will raise interest rates later this year, if the economy strengthens sufficiently. The Fed has kept its benchmark lending rate close to zero for more than six years.

EARNINGS: Companies are set to start reporting earnings for the first quarter. Earnings per share are projected to decline by about 3 percent for S&P 500 companies, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. That would be first contraction since the third quarter of 2009, when the economy was emerging from the Great Recession.

A big slump in oil prices last year his crimped profits at energy companies and a surging dollar is hurting the earnings of big multinational corporations.

EUROPE'S DAY: Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent while France's CAC 40 was flat. Germany's DAX slipped 0.3 percent.

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ENERGY DEAL: Royal Dutch Shell agreed to buy BG Group for $69.7 billion in cash and stock. Energy companies are looking to reduce costs and become more efficient in the wake of tumbling oil prices and can do that by combining businesses. Christian Stadler, associate professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School, said the deal "could be the beginning of a new wave of mega-mergers in the sector."

Shell's stock fell 7 percent in London while BG Group's soared 32 percent.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was down $1.38 at $52.59 a barrel in New York. The contract jumped $1.84, or 3.5 percent, to close at $53.98 a barrel on Tuesday.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed at 1.89 percent. The dollar fell to 119.95 yen from 120.30 yen Tuesday. The euro slipped to $1.0820 from $1.0823.