Last updated: April 26, 2013 11:01 pm

Wall St finishes week on down note

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Mixed economic data and company earnings failed to deter investors from pushing share prices higher this week, sending the S&P 500 back towards record territory.

The week’s gains, however, stalled on Friday after data showed that the economy grew less than expected during the first quarter. Friday ended a run of five consecutive days of gains for the benchmark.

The S&P 500 was down 0.2 per cent to 1,582.24 in New York, trimming its rise to 1.7 per cent on the week.

In a big week for quarterly earnings, there were some bright spots but the tone has generally been disappointing on the revenue side.

To date, 271 companies in the S&P 500 have reported results and earnings growth for the first quarter is running at 2.1 per cent, in line with analysts’s estimates at the start of the year, according to FactSet.

But, 44 per cent of companies have missed their revenue forecasts for the first quarter.

Over the past four years, an average of 57 per cent companies have beaten revenue estimates, said John Butters, analyst at FactSet.

Among companies reporting results this week, Apple was in focus.

Shares in the technology group were 6.8 per cent higher at $417.21 on the week after said it would increase its capital return programme by $55bn.

But some investors worried that the company’s rapid growth rate was showing further signs of deteriorating after Tim Cook, chief executive, hinted that new products would not be released until the fall.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq, in which Apple is the most heavily weighted stock, finished slightly lower on Friday, but rose 2.3 per cent to 3,279.26 on the week.

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the week 1.1 per cent higher at 14,712.55.

Overall, the S&P 500 technology sector was among the best performing sub groups, gaining 2.9 per cent on the week. The gains put the sector into positive territory for 2013.

Elsewhere in the tech sector, shares in Netflix soared after the home DVD delivery and internet streaming company defied market expectations and said it was adding new subscribers at much faster pace than forecast.

The company’s shares rose 31.9 per cent to $215.55 on the week.

Energy sector stocks were mixed as ExxonMobil, which recently regained the distinction as the largest company in the world by market capitalisation, and ConocoPhillips reported flat earnings.

Meanwhile, oilfield services group Halliburton rose 9 per cent to $40.57 even as it said first-quarter profit slowed.

Housing data provided relief as home prices continued to rise while inventories fell, bolstering the country’s largest publicly traded homebuilders. Shares in PulteGroup, among the biggest public homebuilders, rose 18.7 per cent for the week to $21.35.

Materials stocks were boosted by stronger than expected results from Cliffs Natural Resources.

Shares in the mining group gained 14.4 per cent to $20.17 on the week. The sector has been plagued by fears that a slowdown in the global economy was likely to take its toll on companies dependent on growth.

Those worries were highlighted by Caterpillar, the earthmoving equipment maker, which said demand for its mining products had slowed and lowered its full-year profit forecasts. Shares in the company rose 5.3 per cent for the week.

Struggling retailer JC Penney rode positive headlines to trade 11.4 per cent higher on the week at $17.

The company got a boost on news that Soros Fund Management, the hedge fund operated by George Soros, took a 7.9 per cent stake in the troubled department store group. Late on Friday, a CNBC report said Goldman Sachs would be making a sizeable loan to the company, which has lost roughly 50 per cent of its market capitalisation from April 2012 levels.

US defence suppliers shook off concerns about US budget cuts, which took a chunk out of Friday’s GDP data.

Northrop Grumman maintained 2013 earning and sales projections while Lockheed Martin said revenue cuts would not affect profits.

Lockheed Martin rose 2.8 per cent to $98.97 and Northrop Grumman gained 4.6 per cent to $74.24 over the week.

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