April 16, 2019 / 6:31 PM / 2 months ago

US STOCKS-Wall St edges higher on generally upbeat earnings

* Johnson & Johnson rises after beat-and-raise quarter

* Bank of America profit beats, but revenue misses

* Netflix gains after brokerage upgrade, earnings eyed

* Indexes up: Dow 0.14 pct, S&P 0.02 pct, Nasdaq 0.32 pct (Updates to late afternoon, changes dateline, byline)

By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK, April 16 (Reuters) - Financial and tech firms gave Wall Street a modest lift on Tuesday following a string of generally positive earnings, with the S&P 500 inching closer to a new all-time high.

All three major U.S. stock indexes were up slightly, with the S&P 500 still less than a percent below its record as positive first-quarter corporate results gave investors a shot of confidence.

Bank of America Corp, Johnson & Johnson, BlackRock Inc, UnitedHealth Group Inc and others posted quarterly results that surpassed analyst expectations.

“From what I’ve seen so far my feeling is that the analyst projections for the quarter will be beaten to the upside,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York. “We may have a down quarter but it will be better than expected.”

With reporting season in full swing, analysts now expect first quarter S&P 500 profits to have dropped 1.8% year-on-year, according to Refinitiv data. While a solid improvement over recent estimates, it would still mark the first earnings decline since 2016.

Of the 42 S&P 500 companies that have posted thus far, 81% have beaten consensus, compared with the 65% average beat rate going back to 1994.

The second biggest U.S. bank by assets, Bank of America missed revenue expectations but its profit beat forecasts due to cost cutting and loan increases. Its shares edged up 0.4%.

Johnson & Johnson came in above analyst estimates, mostly attributable to sales growth at its pharmaceuticals unit, driving the stock 1.8% higher.

But UnitedHealth Group, which also reported better-than-anticipated first-quarter profit and hiked its 2019 earnings forecast, fell 6.0%, likely due to regulatory worries. The stock was the biggest drag on the Dow.

Rivals Anthem Inc and Cigna Corp were also down, dropping 7.2% and 7.7%, respectively.

The S&P 500 Healthcare Index was down 1.7%

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, rose 2.9% after blowing past Street expectations and raking in $65 billion in new investor cash in the first quarter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 37.55 points, or 0.14%, to 26,422.32, the S&P 500 gained 0.49 points, or 0.02%, to 2,906.07 and the Nasdaq Composite added 25.36 points, or 0.32%, to 8,001.37.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, six were trading in the black.

Financials were the biggest percentage winners, rising 1.3%.

Netflix Inc was up 4.1% ahead of its results later in the day.

International Business Machines Corp is also due to report after session close.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.22-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.40-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 52 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 87 new highs and 34 new lows. (Reporting by Stephen Culp Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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