Closing Bell: Stocks Make Minor Gains as Earnings Season Opens

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Stocks gained ground Monday as investors continued to show confidence in the slowly recovering U.S. economy ahead of the latest round of earnings reports that begin this week.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 88.85 points, (0.6 percent) to close at 15,224.69, while the S&P 500 (^GPSC) added 8.57 points (0.5 percent) to close at 1,640.46, and the Nasdaq (^IXIC) advanced 5.45 points (0.2 percent) to 3,484.83. Small-company stocks, which do best when investors are confident about economic growth, hit a milestone. The Russell 2000 index closed at an all-time high of 1,009.25.

As in the first quarter, investors and traders will search for evidence that companies are increasing revenues, not just cutting costs to boost profits.

Analysts predict that earnings growth for companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3 percent in the second quarter. Though growth is down from 5 percent in the first quarter, earnings are expected to remain close to record levels.

Earnings-season bellwether Alcoa (AA) lost $119 million, or 11 cents a share in the second quarter, on weak aluminum prices. However, the results, reported after trading ended Monday, were better than analyst expectations, after excluding legal-restructuring costs. Without those, Alcoa says it would have earned 7 cents a share, a penny more than Wall Street predicted, according to a survey by FactSet. Alcoa ended Monday up 11 cents to $7.92.

Among other stocks in the news Monday:
  • Douglas Dayton, who led the transformation of a family department store into retailing giant Target Corp., died at age 88, his wife, Wendy, confirmed Sunday. Shares of Minneapolis-based Target (TGT) rose 1 percent to $71.18.
  • Hasbro, the company behind Monopoly, My Little Pony, G.I. Joe and other toy brands, said it bought a 70 percent stake in Backflip Studios, a company that develops games for smartphones and tablets, for $112 million in cash. Shares of Hasbro (HAS) added 10 cents to $46.71.
  • Dell (DELL) rose 41 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $13.44 after an advisory firm recommended that company shareholders vote to allow Dell's founder and an investment firm to take the computer company private. Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners have offered to buy Dell for $13.65 a share, for a total price of $24.4 billion.
  • Priceline (PCLN) rose $33.47, or 3.9 percent, to $888.63 after investment bank Morgan Stanley (MS) raised its price target for the online bookings company. Analysts at the bank believe that Priceline can climb as high as $1,010 as it continues to grow internationally and worries about shrinking profits dissipate.
  • Shares of Noodles & Co. (NDLS) tumbled 4.3 percent to $40.06 after a key analyst initiated a "neutral" rating on its stock, saying that its shares are overvalued just 11 days ago after their market debut. In a research note, Wedbush Securities analyst Nick Setyan said that the price of Noodle's stock is too expensive compared with its restaurant peers despite similarities.
  • Intel (INTC) fell 88 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $23.19 after Citigroup (C) cut its estimates on the chipmaker's earnings.
  • Yahoo (YHOO) sent once-popular search engine to the Internet graveyard to rest alongside order-almost-anything venture and the butler from Ask Jeeves. Yahoo announced AltaVista's fate on its Tumblr page late last month.
What to Watch Tuesday: -Compiled from staff and wire reports.

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Closing Bell: Stocks Make Minor Gains as Earnings Season Opens
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