After Market: Earnings-Boost Pushes S&P Up Most Since July

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Earnings news dominates the action on Wall Street, with big moves by industry leaders IBM, UnitedHealth and General Electric.

Overall, the major averages edged mostly higher heading into the three-day weekend. U.S. financial markets are closed for Good Friday.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) lost 16 points, but the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) rose 2, and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 9 points. The S&P and Nasdaq are now riding a four-day winning streak.

Here's the earnings scorecard, starting with some of the big names that beat expectations:
  • General Electric (GE) gained 2 percent. It's often considered a bellwether for the overall economy because of it's a leader in so many key sectors -- everything from jet engines to consumer finance.
  • In the financial sector, Morgan Stanley (MS) jumped 3 percent. Results top expectations and the company raised its dividend. Goldman Sachs (GS) edged slightly higher.
  • SanDisk (SNDK), which makes data storage equipment, jumped 9 percent.
  • PepsiCo (PEP) gained 1 percent. The company says its results support its opposition to an activist investor's call for the spin off of its food businesses.
On the downside:
  • IBM (IBM) fell 3 percent. Net was in line, but revenue fell short. Big Blue's sales have now declined for eight straight quarters.
  • Google (GOOG) fell 3.5 percent. Investors focused on the rising costs the company incurred and the drop in revenue per click for its ads.
  • UnitedHealth Group (UNH) fell 3 percent, blaming Obamacare and Medicare reimbursement rates for its disappointing numbers. That was a drag for rivals Aetna (AET), WellPoint (WLP) and Humana (HUM) -- all down 3 percent or more.
Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) fell 6 percent despite good quarterly numbers. It's also raising prices and upping its outlook for the year.

The other big story was a pair of closely watched IPOs that were priced at the low end of expectations. Weibo, known as the Chinese Twitter, surged 23 percent from its $17 a share price, while Sabre, the airline reservation service, increased 4 percent.

Finally, Barnes & Noble (BKS) fell 12 percent as the company's chairman sold 3.7-million shares. Not a big vote of confidence in the troubled retailer.

What to Watch Friday:
  • U.S. financial markets are closed for Good Friday.
-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

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After Market: Earnings-Boost Pushes S&P Up Most Since July
"Your daily habits and routines are the reason you got into this mess," writes Trent Hamm, founder of "Spend some time thinking about how you spend money each day, each week and each month." Do you really need your daily latte? Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it four times a week? Ask yourself: What can I change without sacrificing my lifestyle too much? 
Remove all credit cards from your wallet and leave them at home when you go shopping, advises WiseBread contributor Sabah Karimi. “Even if you earn cash back or other rewards with credit card purchases, stop spending with your credit cards until you have your finances under control,” she writes.
If you do a lot of online shopping at one retailer, you may have stored your credit card information on the site to make the checkout process easier. But that also makes it easier to charge items you don't need. So clear that information. "If you’re paying for a recurring service, use a debit card issued from a major credit card service linked to your checking account," Hamm writes.  
Reward yourself when you reach debt payoff goals. "The only way to completely pay off your credit card debt is to keep at it, and to do that, you must keep yourself motivated," Bakke writes. Just make sure to reward yourself within reason. For example, instead of a weeklong vacation, plan a weekend camping trip. "If you aim to reduce your credit card debt from $10,000 to $5,000 in two months," Bakke writes, "give yourself more than a pat on the back." 
“Establish a budget,” writes Money Crashers contributor David Bakke. “If you don't scale back your spending, you'll dig yourself into a deeper hole." You can use personal finance tools like, or make your own Excel spreadsheet that includes your monthly income and expenses. Then scrutinize those budget categories to see where you can cut costs.    
Sort your credit card interest rates from highest to lowest, then tackle the card with the highest rate first. "By paying off the balance with the highest interest first, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards," writes spokeswoman Hitha Prabhakar.
To make a dent in your debt, you need to pay more than the minimum balance on your credit card statements each month. "Paying the minimum -– usually 2 to 3 percent of the outstanding balance -– only prolongs a debt payoff strategy," Prabhakar writes. "Strengthen your commitment to pay everything off by making weekly, instead of monthly, payments." Or if your minimum payment is $100, try doubling it and paying off $200 or more. 
If you have a high-interest card with a balance that you’re confident you can pay off in a few months, Hamm recommends moving the debt to a card that offers a zero-interest balance transfer. "You’ll need to pay off the debt before the balance transfer expires, or else you’re often hit with a much higher interest rate," he warns. "If you do it carefully, you can save hundreds on interest this way."
Have any birthday gifts or old wedding presents collecting dust in your closet? Look for items you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. "Do some research to make sure you list these items at a fair and reasonable price," Karimi writes. “Take quality photos, and write an attention-grabbing headline and description to sell the item as quickly as possible." Any profits from sales should go toward your debt. 
If you receive a job bonus around the holidays or during the year, allocate that money toward your debt payoff plan. "Avoid the temptation to spend that bonus on a vacation or other luxury purchase," Karimi writes. It’s more important to fix your financial situation than own the latest designer bag.
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