Stocks start August higher after posting 6th monthly gain

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FILE – In this March 23, 2021 file photo, pedestrians walk past the New York Stock Exchange in New York’s Financial District. Stocks are starting August on a strong note after the S&P 500 closed out its sixth straight month of gains. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Stocks edged higher on Wall Street in choppy trading Monday as investors balanced unease about the spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant against another round of encouraging company earnings.

The S&P 500 was up 0.1% as of 2:47 p.m. Eastern. The benchmark index is coming off a weekly loss, though it ended July higher, its sixth straight month of gains.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was essentially flat with a gain of less than 0.1% to 34,942 and the Nasdaq composite was up 0.4%.

A variety of retailers and other companies that rely on direct consumer spending rose. Banks, health care and utilities stocks also notched gains, outweighing a slide in makers of consumer and household goods, communications stocks and raw materials companies.

This week will be busy for investors. Roughly 150 members of the S&P 500 will report their results, and the July jobs report comes out on Friday.

Companies that will report this week include DuPont, Eli Lilly, CVS, Kraft Heinz, General Motors and Humana, among many others.

So far earnings season has been strong for corporate America, with the average S&P 500 company reporting an 85.1% growth in profits from last year. Roughly nine out of ten companies have beaten expectations on both profits and revenue. The index is on pace to have its strongest earnings season since 2009.

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats made progress in advancing President Biden’s infrastructure package over the weekend. The package is expected to be passed in the Senate by the end of the week.

Construction equipment maker Caterpillar, which would stand to benefit from more spending on infrastructure, rose 0.4%.

Square jumped 13.2% after the payments company said it would acquire the “buy now, pay later” company Afterpay for $29 billion.

Bond yields were falling again. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.17% from 1.24% on Friday. Crude oil prices closed 3.6% lower.

Investors are still closely watching any developments with the virus pandemic and how mutations and variants might impact economic growth amid a surge in new infections that’s driving hospital caseloads in some places to their highest levels since the outbreak began. Still, analysts don’t expect a big pullback in consumer or economic activity.

“The impact on the economy will be considerably more limited than it was in previous waves,” said Gary Schlossberg, global strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Investors are also getting a few pieces of economic data this week that could help them better gauge the economy’s health.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said manufacturing slowed in July. Many companies are being held back by supply chain issues. The trade group will release its report on the services sector on Tuesday, which is a much bigger piece of the U.S. economy.

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