NEW YORK — The Standard & Poor’s 500 index notched another record close today by a tiny margin as good news from J.C. Penney helped offset disappointing earnings from several U.S. companies.
J.C. Penney was the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 after the retailer’s CEO said sales were improving. Merck fell after the drugmaker sharply lowered its earnings forecast for the year and reported a plunge in third-quarter earnings. Roper Industries, a medical and industrial equipment manufacturer, dropped after lowering its full-year earnings estimate.
The S&P 500 has closed at an all-time high six times in October. The index was boosted earlier in the month by a deal in Washington that ended a partial government shutdown and prevented a potential default on the U.S. government’s debt. Stocks have also climbed because companies have been able to keep increasing their earnings even as the economy failed to escape stall speed.
Earnings are expected to rise by about 4.5 percent at S&P 500 companies, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. While that is the slowest rate of growth in a year, companies are still beating the estimates of Wall Street analysts. About two-thirds of the companies that have published third-quarter earnings so far have exceeded analysts’ expectations.
“Earnings are beating a low bar,” said Russ Koesterich, chief investment strategist at BlackRock. “You have an economy that’s not producing a lot of top-line growth, but it’s allowing margins to remain elevated for longer than people thought.”
The S&P 500 rose 2.34 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,762.11. The Dow Jones industrial average edged down 1.35 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 15,568.93. The Nasdaq composite closed down 3.23 points, or 0.1 percent, at 3,940.13.
J.C. Penney, which is trying to recover from a botched corporate makeover led by its former CEO, rose 60 cents, or 8.8 percent, to $7.39. The stock, which is still down 63 percent this year.
Merck fell $1.19, or 2.6 percent, to $45.35 after reporting that its third-quarter profit plunged 35 percent. Roper Industries fell $8.78, or 2.6 percent, to $124.26 after the company’s earnings fell short of estimates. Roper also cut its earnings forecast.