Stocks edge higher at start of a big earnings week

STEVE ROTHWELL AP Markets Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks edged higher Monday at the start of another major week for company earnings. The stock market also got a lift from an encouraging report on the U.S. economy. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is coming off its best week since July.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,868 as of 1:25 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 21 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,429. The Nasdaq composite gained 15 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,110. The stock market was closed for Good Friday last week.

BIG MINING: Newmont Mining surged $1.19, or 5.1 percent, to $24.73 following reports that the mining company was considering a merger with Barrick Gold. The two companies are seeking to cut costs after a slump in metals prices.

OIL TURNAROUND: Halliburton rose $1.64, or 2.7 percent, to $62.54 after the company turned a profit in the first quarter following a loss in the same period a year ago. Last year the company set aside money for litigation over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM: An index designed to predict future economic growth rose in March for the third month in a row, an encouraging sign after harsh winter weather slowed down the U.S. economy. The Conference Board said Monday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.8 percent in March after a 0.5 percent rise in February and a modest 0.2 percent gain in January.

THE QUOTE: "The data are suggesting that we will gain economic momentum," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial. "There is a sense, more and more, that the economy won't run into another soft patch this year."

THE EARNINGS TRAIN: This week 159 companies in the S&P 500, representing about a third of the value of the index, are scheduled to report first-quarter earnings. Netflix will release its earnings after the closing bell. Companies including McDonald's, Delta Air Lines and Ford are also among those scheduled to release their results this week.

S&P 500 companies are forecast to report an overall 1.1 percent decline in earnings for the period, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. If that forecast holds, it would mark the first decline in corporate earnings since the third quarter of 2009, when earnings fell 1.7 percent.

IN BAD HEALTH: Athenahealth, a provider of online health-record services, slumped $5.83, or 4 percent, to $139.75 after the company reported earnings that fell short of analysts' estimates.

RECOVERY WEEK: The S&P 500 climbed 2.7 percent last week, recovering from a big-sell in early April off triggered by a slump in high-flying Internet and biotechnology stocks. The index is up 0.9 percent for the year and is trading close to its record close of 1,890 set April 2.

TREASURIES AND COMMODITIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.70 percent. The price of oil rose 13 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $104.43 a barrel.