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Stock Market Report For Week Ended April 24, 2015

Stocks move into record territory as Nasdaq finally surmounts hurdle
Stocks handily recouped the previous week's losses and moved into record territory. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index and the smaller-cap benchmarks established all-time highs at the end of the week, helped by some better-than-expected earnings reports. More notable was the performance of the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite, which finally managed to surmount the record closing high it established over 15 years ago. However, the composite remained slightly below the intraday high it reached during the dot-com bubble—and well below its peak on an inflation-adjusted basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average remained shy of its record high from March.

Strong dollar weighs on earnings, but investors are patient in some cases
With the first-quarter earnings reporting season in full swing, investors continued to keep a close eye on how the strong U.S. dollar and low energy prices were affecting corporate profits. On Tuesday, materials giant DuPont fell and weighed particularly heavily on the Dow after it reported that the strong dollar had reduced its foreign earnings, although the company said it hoped to maintain profit targets through expense cuts. In other cases, investors appeared to be willing to forgive such dollar-related earnings weakness. McDonald's shares rose even after the company reported a nearly one-third drop in profits, due partly to currency translation.

Profit decline centered in energy sector
Overall, the strong dollar and weak oil prices appeared to be taking a smaller toll on profits than originally estimated. Based on reports issued to date, data and analytics firm FactSet reported that first-quarter earnings for the S&P 500 had declined by 2.8%—substantially less than the 4.6% drop predicted a few weeks ago—even as revenues fell more than anticipated. FactSet also reported that earnings were expected to grow by 5.6% in the second quarter, if the roughly two-thirds plunge in energy profits were excluded.

Business investment remains weak but signs of housing strength resume
The concentration of weakness in the energy sector may have been one reason stocks managed a gain even in the midst of some poor economic data released during the week. The Commerce Department reported that durable goods orders outside of the volatile defense and transportation segments had barely budged in March, with notably weak business investment. Weekly jobless claims also rose slightly more than anticipated. However, better news on housing earlier in the week may have boosted sentiment. March existing home sales in the U.S. reached their best level in a year and a half.

Some technology companies are growing rapidly, even in a weak global economy
Finally, positive earnings surprises from some prominent technology firms helped markets end the week on an up note. With the pace of economic growth remaining subdued in the developed world while emerging economies are slowing, T. Rowe Price technology managers and analysts are keeping a close eye on firms with healthy so-called secular growth prospects. These favored firms have been able to enjoy solid growth because they are either exploiting new markets, such as social media, or are using technology to seize share from traditional competitors in established markets.

 

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