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Stocks fluctuate as earnings season kicks off

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Stocks fluctuate as earnings season kicks off

Stocks fluctuated in a listless session Thursday before moving higher in late trading as the first-quarter earnings season kicks off and oil prices rebound slightly. In late afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.3% and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 0.4%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index added 0.4%. Oil prices rose as U.S. benchmark crude gained 0.7% to $50.84 a barrel after plunging 6% Wednesday on a larger-than-expected inventory build-up.635641697263595294-GTY-467509300

After the bell Wednesday, Alcoa (AA) reported earnings that beat Wall Street estimates but revenue came in short of expectations. Shares tumbled about 4%. Alcoa’s report reinforces fears of a weak earnings season. Wall Street analysts expect profits from S&P 500 companies to fall 2.8%, which would be the first year-over-year drop in earnings since the third quarter of 2009, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Overseas, Hong Kong stocks surged amid strong buying by mainland Chinese investors. The Hang Seng index jumped 2.7% and posted its sixth straight day of gains. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.8% and China’s Shanghai Composite fell 1%. European shares were higher Thursday, with Britain’s FTSE 100 index rising 1.1%, Germany’s DAX gaining 1.1%, and France’s CAC 40 jumping 1.4%.

Stocks closed higher Wednesday after the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s meeting in March showed policymakers were divided on the timing of the first interest rate hike. The minutes of the Fed’s March 17-18 meeting showed a divergence of opinion as several policymakers said last month the central bank is likely to raise its benchmark interest rate in June but “others” said the move will probably occur “later in the year.”