Dow turns positive, S&P 500 heads for best January since 1987, on the back of strong earnings

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Bryan R. Smith | AFP | Getty Images

Stocks rose on the back of strong earnings from Facebook and General Electric as Wall Street concluded a strong month for equities.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded 7 points higher, erasing a loss of more than 150 points from earlier in the session. The S&P 500 gained 1 percent, led by the communications services and consumer staples sectors. The Nasdaq Composite outperformed, rising 1.6 percent.

Shares of Facebook surged 12.9 percent after the company’s quarterly results easily topped expectations. GE shares jumped 15.3 percent on stronger-than-forecast revenue.

Thursday’s gains put the S&P 500 on track for their best January performance since 1987, having risen 8 percent this month. The broad index is also on pace for its biggest monthly gain since October 2015.

“We’re close to fair value,” said Dave Lafferty, chief market strategist at Natixis Investment Managers. “It feels like a lot of this was a pop from fairly oversold levels in the fourth quarter. The market sort of ran away with itself to the downside and it’s come back.”

Last month, the S&P 500 fell 9.18 percent and briefly dipped into bear-market territory on an intraday basis on Christmas Eve. Since Dec. 24, however, stocks have been on a tear, with the S&P 500 rising about 15 percent.

The market is now “thinking about what is the next catalyst,” Lafferty of Natixis said. “It doesn’t feel, to me, like this pop in January is the beginning of a big new move. It feels like it was just a rebound from oversold levels.”

The rise Thursday follows a rally from Wednesday, sparked by the Federal Reserve’s latest monetary policy statement. The Fed said it will be “patient” with raising rates moving forward. The Fed also addressed the balance sheet, which had been a concern for investors, in a separate statement. The Fed said it “is prepared to adjust any of the details for completing balance sheet normalization in light of economic and financial developments.”

“Markets are rebounding and some recession fears are fading. Central banks have blinked, moderating their hawkish stance,” Alberto Gallo, head of macro strategies at Algebris Investments, wrote in a note. “If we look at monetary policy today, there are relatively low risks that the Fed may turn aggressively hawkish, ending the cycle prematurely.”

Investors also monitored ongoing U.S.-China trade negotiations. Two sources told CNBC that U.S. and Chinese officials are talking about arranging a meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping for late February.

Not everyone participated in Thursday’s rise, however. Microsoft fell 1.5 percent after the company reported weaker-than-expected revenue and earnings that barely beat expectations. The tech giant also issued quarterly earnings guidance that was lower than expected. DowDuPont, another Dow member, fell 7.5 percent on the back of mixed quarterly results. Tesla shares dipped 0.8 percent on the back of weaker-than-expected earnings. The company also said its CFO was leaving his post.

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