Stocks edge higher in midday trade on Wall Street

Kellogg and Sysco rise on earnings gains

A pair of traders work in a booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange today.
A pair of traders work in a booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange today.

NEW YORK — Investors picked over a stock market that is already near all-time highs today, doing enough selective buying to send indexes slightly higher.

There was no broad rally, no widespread buying. Instead, certain sectors attracted interest. Homebuilding stocks rose after a big merger was announced in the industry. Steel stocks rose after Goldman Sachs upgraded the sector. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was up more than a half-percent, the biggest gain among major U.S. indexes.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has risen four weeks in a row and had a small gain today, rising one point to 1,763. The S&P 500 closed at a record high of 1,771.95 on Oct. 29.

The Nasdaq composite also rose, gaining four points, or a tenth of a percent, to 3,926.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 20 points, or a tenth of a percent, to 15,595, held back by declines in Visa and DuPont.

Six of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose, led by energy stocks. Financial stocks, utilities, consumer staples and consumer discretionary companies fell.

Homebuilders rose after Tri Pointe Homes said it would combine with Weyerhaeuser’s home building business in a $2.7 billion deal. Last week homebuilders fell after the Federal Reserve said in a policy statement that the recovery in that sector has “slowed somewhat” in recent months.

Tri Pointe rose $1.07, or 7 percent, to $16.45. D.R. Horton rose 69 cents or 3.8 percent, to $19.20. Beazer Homes USA rose 51 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $18.39. KB Home rose 55 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $17.15.

Steelmakers rose after Goldman Sachs said the steel sector appears to be “heading to a sustainable recovery.” AK Steel Holding rose 53 cents, or 11.5 percent, to $5.13. US Steel rose $1.32, or 5.1 percent, to $27.10. Steel Dynamics Inc. rose 49 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $18.93.

So far during the third-quarter earnings season, 68 percent of companies that have reported have beaten analysts’ estimates, according to S&P Capital IQ. But 60 of the 78 companies that provided fourth-quarter forecasts came in lower than analysts were expecting.

“Generally earnings have been OK, but revenues have been a little bit light,” said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager for the Clover Small Value Fund at Federated Investors.

“Management teams seem to be getting it done through cost-cutting rather than vibrant organic growth. The economy is growing slowly, stubbornly slowly,” Creatura said.

Cost-cutting was what drove shares higher for cereal-maker Kellogg, which gained $1.21, or 2 percent, to $63.50. Kellogg said it will cut its workforce 7 percent after reporting sales that were weaker than the market was expecting.

Food distributor Sysco rose after its earnings beat analyst estimates. Its stock rose $1.43, or 4.4 percent, to $33.99.

BlackBerry plunged $1.09, or 14 percent, to $6.70 after the company said it was calling off its effort to find a buyer and would replace its CEO. The smartphone maker has been losing customers to Apple’s iPhones and phones that run Google’s Android software.

With just 14 companies set to report earnings today, some investors were on the sidelines. The pace of earnings picks up on Tuesday. Investors were also looking ahead to Twitter’s highly-anticipated public offering and the Labor Department’s employment survey on Friday.

Prices for petroleum products fell. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil edged down 18 cents to $94.43.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.60 percent from 2.62 percent.