Stocks turned higher Tuesday as crude oil declined and the fourth-quarter earnings season drew closer.
The S&P 500 was up 0.07%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.05%, and the Nasdaq added 0.12%, trading at an intraday high of 5,541. Caterpillar (CAT) and American Express (AXP) were the biggest gainers on the Dow.
Crude oil prices declined on Tuesday after slumping to a three-week low a day earlier. Commodities slumped after Friday's weekly reading on U.S. drilling activity showed an increase for the 10th consecutive week in a row. Trading has been erratic since the beginning of the year when a production freeze agreement among Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries went into effect.
West Texas Intermediate crude was down 0.7% to $51.61 a barrel on Tuesday morning.
Investors were in wait-and-see mode ahead of the kickoff to the fourth-quarter earnings season later in the week. Average earnings for the S&P 500 in the fourth quarter are expected to increase 4.4% from the same period a year earlier. Earnings growth would mark the second straight quarter of gains after the third quarter broke an earnings recession that lasted for four consecutive quarters.
"We believe investors are pricing in a beat for fourth-quarter earnings," said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "EPS growth hasn't fallen short of expectations since first quarter 2009 and the past two quarters had solid beat rates of 4.9% and 3.5%, respectively. As long as investors don't anticipate a greater-than-average beat, fourth-quarter earnings shouldn't rock the market.
Job openings remained unchanged in November in another sign strength in the labor market is holding. Openings held at 5.5 million in November, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Hiring rose 1.1% to 5.2 million.
Investors also were looking to a press conference Wednesday with President-elect Donald Trump, his first since winning the U.S. presidential election. Trump could provide details Wednesday on his policy positions, including infrastructure spending plans and policies intended to boost job growth.
The Dow has struggled to breach 20,000 in recent days after coming close to the milestone on Friday. The Dow has rocketed higher since the November presidential election as investors grew more confident in Trump's infrastructure spending plans.
"Expectations continue to run high that regulations will be rolled back, allowing corporate earnings to improve and support the higher markets," said Paul Nolte, senior vice president of Kingsview Asset Management. "Of course, the new administration could usher in trade wars with a variety of trading partners, boost inflation by profligate spending that would also push interest rates higher."
Chipotle (CMG) rose 3.7% after same-store sales improved over the fourth quarter, a sign the company is overcoming a food safety scandal in 2015. The burrito chain reported a 20.2% decline in same-store sales in October, a 1.4% drop in November, and 14.7% growth in December. Overall same-store sales are expected to decline by 4.8% in the fourth quarter. Chipotle also authorized a $100 million share buyback program, adding to an existing $2.1 billion repurchase plan.
Pixelworks (PXLW) moved 9% higher after guiding for fourth-quarter sales at the high end of its previous range of $15 million to $16 million. The video technology developer also said it expects to turn a profit in the fourth quarter after previously expecting to post a loss or breakeven.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) shares gained 9.5% after the company agreed to sell three skincare lines to L'Oreal (LRLCY) for $1.3 billion, and its Dendreon cancer business to China's Sanpower Group for $820 million.
Zimmer Biomet (ZBH) climbed after guiding for a better-than-expected fourth quarter. The company anticipates fourth-quarter sales of $2.013 billion, above consensus of $1.97 billion, while full-year sales are expected to rise 28% to $7.68 billion.
Pluristem Therapeutics (PSTI) rose after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a late-stage trial of a treatment of critical limb ischemia, a condition which limits blood flow and often leads to limb amputation. The medical development company said it would push a Phase III study of its PLX-PAD cells toward a goal of marketing approval.
Illumina (ILMN) surged nearly 20% after teaming up with Bio-Rad Laboratories (BIO) to launch a sequencing solution for single-cell analysis. The solution technology allows researchers to pinpoint individual cells to determine tissue function and disease progression. Illumina also guided for fourth-quarter sales of $619 million, above consensus of $613 million.