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Stocks eke out modest gains as focus turns to US earnings

U.S. stocks were steadily higher in early trading Tuesday, as investors worked through the first batch of earnings from the first quarter of the year.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 42 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,600 as of 10:09 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose two points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,044 and the Nasdaq composite slipped 10 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,821.

EARNINGS: Earnings season got underway on a lackluster note late Monday as Alcoa reported a 15 percent fall in revenue. Alcoa also had a huge drop in first-quarter profit as aluminum prices dropped. Alcoa’s stock fell 56 cents, or 6 percent, to $9.20 in early trading Tuesday.

Later this week big U.S. banks will start releasing results, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, though expectations are low for this earnings season.

Expectations for earnings are low this quarter. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expect corporate profits to be down 9.1 percent from a year ago, hurt primarily by the steep drop in oil prices and other commodities. The entire energy sector is expected to report a loss this quarter, according to FactSet.

OIL IN FOCUS TOO: Crude prices will also be a key point of interest in financial markets ahead of further U.S. inventory data and this Sunday’s meeting of oil producers in Doha, Qatar. Oil prices have recovered lately, partly on expectations that some sort of production cut may emerge. Benchmark U.S. crude oil was up 18 cents at $40.54 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 37 cents to $43.20 a barrel in London.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.76 percent from 1.73 percent late Monday. The euro fell to $1.1349 from $1.1412 while the dollar rose to 108.66 yen from 107.94 yen.

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