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* Retail sales post biggest gain in 1-1/2 yrs in March
* Industrials boost S&P 500, Dow Jones
* Pinterest surges in debut
* Indexes up: Dow 0.52%, S&P 500 0.20%, Nasdaq 0.01% (Updates to late afternoon; changes dateline, byline)
By Stephen Culp
NEW YORK, April 18 (Reuters) - Industrials led Wall Street higher on Thursday in the wake of upbeat economic data and a string of healthy corporate earnings.
All three major U.S. stock indexes nosed into positive territory in light trading heading into the three-day weekend.
For the holiday-shortened week, the S&P was on track to snap its three-week winning streak, while the Dow and the Nasdaq were poised to end the week higher.
U.S. retail sales in March blew past analyst expectations, rising at their fastest monthly pace in 1-1/2 years, according to the Commerce Department.
In a separate report, jobless claims data from the Labor Department showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped last week to a 50-year low.
Industrial stocks provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and the Dow following positive quarterly results and remarks from China’s commerce ministry spokesman that progress has been made in U.S.-China trade negotiations.
With reporting season in high gear, January-March S&P 500 profits are expected to have dropped 1.7% year-on-year, which would mark the first decline in quarterly earnings since 2016.
Of the 77 S&P 500 companies that have posted thus far, 77.9% have beaten consensus, compared with the 65% average beat rate going back to 1994.
First quarter earnings are beating estimates, “but not by enough to be a catalyst for significantly higher stock prices,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago. “You’d have to hit the ball out of the park to push stocks significantly higher.”
Growing demand for aircraft parts drove Honeywell International Inc’s profit beat. The company raised its full-year forecast, and its stock rose 4.0%.
Fewer catastrophe losses helped Travelers Companies Inc report higher-than-expected profit. The property & casualty insurer’s stock gained 3.0%.
Union Pacific Corp shares advanced 4.9% after beating earnings estimates as the railroad offset the impact severe weather and midwest floods through price hikes.
Among earnings misses, Schlumberger NV reported a 20% drop in first quarter profit, but said it expects a 7% to 8% rise in investments by oil producers, which would be a tailwind for the oil services company. Its shares slipped 3.9%.
American Express Co’s quarterly revenue fell short of analyst estimates, but the stock reversed early losses, and was last up 1.9%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 137.32 points, or 0.52%, to 26,586.86, the S&P 500 gained 5.79 points, or 0.20%, to 2,906.24 and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.63 points, or 0.01%, to 7,996.71.
Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, eight were in the black, with industrials leading the way with a 1.19% advance.
Online scrapbook company Pinterest Inc jumped 30.1% in its debut.
Meanwhile, Lyft Inc dropped 2.4%. The ride-hailing service’s stock is now trading 19% below its $72 offer price.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.00-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.12-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 33 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 41 new highs and 71 new lows. (Reporting by Stephen Culp Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)