April 20, 2017 / 3:17 PM / 3 months ago

US STOCKS-Wall St climbs as earnings gather pace; AmEx boosts Dow

4 Min Read

* Philip Morris, Verizon fall after quarterly results

* Investors eye first round of French election this Sunday

* Indexes up: Dow 0.35 pct, S&P 0.26 pct, Nasdaq 0.34 pct (Adds details, changes comment, updates prices)

By Tanya Agrawal

April 20 (Reuters) - Wall Street was higher in late morning trading on Thursday, boosted largely by gains in financial and materials stocks.

A 3.9 percent rise in shares of American Express kept the Dow Jones Industrial Average on track to break a two-day losing streak, although losses in Travelers and Verizon limited the gains.

AmEx reported a smaller-than-expected drop in quarterly profit on Wednesday, indicating the credit card company was recovering from the loss of key partnerships last year.

"As we see a steady stream of earnings, on balance the season has been better and that's helping the market today," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

With Wall Street near record levels and worries over President Donald Trump's ability to deliver on his pro-growth promises, investors are hoping first-quarter earnings will be strong enough to justify lofty market valuations.

Of the 57 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Wednesday morning, about 75 percent have topped expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, above the 71 percent average for the past four quarters.

Overall, profits of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 10.8 percent in the quarter, the best since 2011.

"Investors are definitely nervous about the upcoming French elections, the situation in North Korea and Syria. Friday should be a risk-off trading day ahead of the election."

Mounting tensions between North Korea and the United States and the looming French presidential elections are keeping investors away from making risky bets.

A closely watched poll showed Centrist Emmanuel Macron hung on to his lead as favorite to win France's presidential election in a four-way race that is too close to call.

Oil prices remained volatile with Brent crude up 0.3 percent at $53.10, after being lower earlier in the session.

At 10:39 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 70.46 points, or 0.35 percent, at 20,474.95, the S&P 500 was up 6.08 points, or 0.26 percent, at 2,344.25.

The Nasdaq Composite was up 19.68 points, or 0.34 percent, at 5,882.71.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, with the financial index's 0.77 percent rise leading the gainers.

CSX Corp jumped 7 percent to $50.16 after the No. 3 U.S. railroad operator's quarterly profit beat estimates. The stock was among the biggest boosts to the S&P and the Nasdaq.

Shares of Philip Morris fell 3.6 percent to $109.82 after the tobacco maker's first-quarter profit forecast came in below estimates.

Key companies scheduled to report results on Thursday include Dow component Visa and toymaker Mattel.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,685 to 1,018. On the Nasdaq, 1,659 issues rose and 908 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 25 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 75 new highs and 20 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D'Silva)

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