* Earnings expected to grow, but may struggle to top
* Alcoa rises after market close as earnings beat
* Consumer staples lead the day's advance, Monster Beverage
* Lufkin stock jumps almost 38 pct on GE's plan to buy
* Dow up 0.3 pct, S&P 500 up 0.6 pct, Nasdaq up 0.6 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, April 8 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended a volatile
session higher on Monday as investors looked ahead to an
earnings season expected to show modest growth despite concerns
about macroeconomic conditions.
Wall Street fluctuated between positive and negative
territory for much of the day before climbing in the final hour
of trading, ending near its session highs. However, volume was
light and the Dow's gains were limited by a selloff of Johnson &
Forecasts for first-quarter earnings have been scaled back
in 2013, with profits seen rising just 1.6 percent from the
year-ago quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data. In January,
earnings were seen rising 4.3 percent.
The drop in expectations has come as economic figures
suggest the recovery could be less robust than some had thought.
Weak corporate results could give investors further reasons to
sell, pushing both the Dow and the S&P 500 back from recent
all-time closing highs.
"We're waiting for earnings for evidence that the market can
be supported at these levels," said Jim Dunigan, chief
investment officer at PNC Wealth Management in Philadelphia. "We
will see growth in earnings, but clearing the expectations bar
could be difficult, which could give us reason to pause."
The season unofficially started after the market closed with
results from Alcoa Inc. The stock rose 1.3 percent to
$8.50 in extended-hours trading after adjusted earnings topped
As the first Dow component to report, Alcoa is informally
viewed as setting the initial tone for the season, though many
more bellwether companies' earnings won't come out until next
week. The S&P materials index ended Monday's session
up 0.4 percent.
Among the day's most active names, Advanced Micro Devices
jumped 13 percent to $2.59 as the S&P 500's biggest
percentage gainer, while Monster Beverage rose 4.7
percent to $52.01, helping boost the S&P consumer staples sector
index, which rose 1.1 percent.
On the downside, J&J fell 1.1 percent to $81.11 after
JPMorgan downgraded the healthcare company's stock to "neutral"
from "overweight," saying it faced "a messy first quarter and a
likely downward revision to 2013 guidance."
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 48.15 points,
or 0.33 percent, at 14,613.40. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
was up 9.76 points, or 0.63 percent, at 1,563.04. The
Nasdaq Composite Index was up 18.39 points, or 0.57
percent, at 3,222.25.
Stocks have rallied strongly this year with major indexes
hitting record highs, helped in part by the Federal Reserve's
stimulus program. The S&P 500 is up 9.6 percent for the year so
far, while the Dow has gained 11.5 percent.
Despite that, major indexes posted their worst weekly loss
for 2013 last week, with the payroll report fueling concerns
about economic growth.
"A lot of the momentum we had in the first quarter was based
on improving economic news, and the jobs report really took the
wind out of our sails," said Dunigan, who helps oversee $116
billion in assets. "We're still trying to sift through what that
means for our prospects going forward."
Volume was light, with about 5.02 billion shares changing
hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT,
well below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48
Two-thirds of the stocks traded on the New York Stock
Exchange closed in positive territory, while about 60 percent of
Nasdaq-listed shares ended higher.
Loose monetary policy from central banks around the world is
expected to keep equities attractive. Recently investors have
been using market declines as buying opportunities.
The Bank of Japan started its bond purchases on Monday after
it announced last week that it will inject about $1.4 trillion
into the economy in less than two years.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will give a speech later on Monday
after markets are closed. Investors have been watching for any
insight into the Fed's thinking on how long the central bank
will keep its asset purchase program in place as it tries to
boost the economic recovery.
General Electric Co said it will buy oilfield pump
maker Lufkin Industries Inc for about $2.98 billion,
driving Lufkin shares up 37.6 percent to $87.96. GE, a Dow
component, rose 0.8 percent to $23.12.
The news lifted energy names, with WPX Energy Inc up
5.3 percent at $17.01.