U.S. stocks edged lower on Thursday as corporate results showed little organic growth even as they largely beat profit expectations.
While Netflix surged following blockbuster results, curbing the decline on Nasdaq, shares of SanDisk slumped following a weak revenue outlook that added to concerns about the pace of top-line improvement.
Of the 36 companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index that have reported thus far, 81% exceeded profit expectations, well above the long-term average of 63%. Only 47 have beaten on revenue, however, below the historical average of 61%. That suggests companies are boosting their bottom lines with cost cuts rather than through business expansion.
"This is a pricy market. It needs earnings to sustain it, and the earnings need to be sustained by strong demand. Right now I'm not thrilled with the level of revenue growth we're seeing," said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners in New York.
First-quarter profits for S&P 500 companies are seen falling 2.6%, according to Thomson Reuters data, eroded by low oil prices, a strong dollar and extreme weather in the eastern United States.
Netflix was the S&P's biggest gainer, up 13% at $537 a day after it added more subscribers than projected in the first quarter. SanDisk was the benchmark index's biggest decliner, off 7% at $66.26 after its forecast.
Among other notable earnings, UnitedHealth Group Inc reported strong earnings and revenue growth, sending shares up 3.3% to $121.17. Goldman Sachs fell 0.8% to $199.49 despite reporting better-than-expected earnings. Both companies are Dow components.
Energy shares fell 0.8% as WTI crude futures dropped 1.9% to $55.31 a barrel. That follows a rise of 5.8% on Wednesday, the fifth day of gains for the commodity.
Jobless claims unexpectedly rose in the latest week, but continuing claims fell to their lowest since 2000, a trend that points to a strengthening labor market.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 44.98 points, or 0.25%, to 18,067.63, the S&P 500 lost 6.08 points, or 0.29%, to 2,100.55 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 6.99 points, or 0.14%, to 5,004.02.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,796 to 890, for a 2.02-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,290 issues fell and 1,003 advanced for a 1.29-to-1 ratio.
The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 4 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite was recording 35 new highs and 6 new lows.