Stocks rise as investors focus on solid corporate earnings

Stocks are moving higher on Wall Street in afternoon trading Wednesday ahead of the Federal Reserve’s latest interest rate policy update

NEW YORK —
Stocks moved higher on Wall Street in afternoon trading Wednesday ahead of the Federal Reserve’s latest interest rate policy update.

The central bank was widely expected to leave its short-term interest rate unchanged. The Fed lowered rates three times last year.

Investors also continued to size up company earnings reports, including solid quarterly results from Apple, Norfolk Southern and General Electric.

A report that Americans pulled back on signing contracts to buy homes last month dragged down homebuilder stocks.

Technology companies powered much of the market’s upward move. Industrial and financial stocks also notched solid gains. Communication services, energy and real estate companies fell.

Wall Street is in the middle of a busy week for corporate earnings. Facebook, Microsoft and Tesla will release earnings later Wednesday. Coca-Cola, UPS, Amazon and Visa will report results on Thursday. Caterpillar and Exxon Mobil will report results on Friday.

The deadly coronavirus is still a potential threat to the global economy, but Wall Street has managed to set aside those concerns, for now. The lockdown in China has trapped more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed. The outbreak has infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index rose 0.4% as of 1:45 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 141 points, or 0.5%, to 28,864. The Nasdaq climbed 0.4%. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks fell 0.3%.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.62% from 1.64% late Tuesday.

European markets rose and Asian markets were mixed. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 2.8% after its markets reopened from Lunar New Year holidays, while other Chinese markets remained closed.

THE FED SPEAKS: The Fed is scheduled to issue a policy update at 2 p.m. Eastern time, following a two-day meeting of its policymaking committee.

Last year, the Fed cut its benchmark interest rate three times after having raised it four times in 2018. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell credits those rate cuts with revitalizing the housing market, which had stumbled early last year, and offsetting some of the drag from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

HOLIDAY CRISP: Apple rose 2.5% after a strong holiday season helped propel profits beyond Wall Street forecasts. The iPhone maker’s surprisingly good report marks a turnaround from a year ago when sales of its marquee product appeared to be sliding. The company is also seeing gains in sales of smartwatches, digital services and wireless earbuds.

FRESH SCENT: L Brands skyrocketed 12.7% following reports that the owner of Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret could change leadership and sell off some of its parts. The Wall Street Journal reported that Leslie Wexner, who has served as CEO for more than five decades, is in talks to step down. It also said the company is considering a full or partial sale of its lingerie business.

ON TRACK: Norfolk Southern climbed 5.6% after the railroad reported surprisingly good fourth-quarter profits on cost cuts. The railroad industry has been experiencing weak demand for freight hauling and the company is trying to operate on a tighter schedule and move more freight with fewer people.

Union Pacific rose 1.8% and CSX climbed 2%.

TAKING FLIGHT: General Electric surged 10% after a strong showing from its aviation business pushed profits above expectations.

RED FLAG: The National Association of Realtors’ pending home sales index fell 4.9% last month. The index, which measures the numbers of signed home purchase contracts, is an indicator of potential completed sales.

Homebuilders slumped following the weak housing report. PulteGroup fell 3.5% and Hovnanian shed 5.5%.

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AP Business Writer Damian J. Troise contributed.