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Friday February 12th, 2016 11:16AM

Stocks log longest winning streak in six months

By The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) -- The stock market logged its longest winning streak in six months Monday as another big week for company earnings began.

Halliburton, an oil and gas drilling company, rose after reporting a first-quarter profit on rising revenue in the Middle East and Asia. Toymaker Hasbro gained after saying it returned to profitability in its first quarter. A strong earnings report from Netflix pushed the company's stock higher in after-hours trading.

Close to a third of the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index are scheduled to report first-quarter earnings this week, giving investors a better picture about the outlook for demand after the economy's winter slump. Stocks logged their best weekly gain since July last week as companies started reporting their earnings.

"I like what I see in the market," said Karyn Cavanaugh, a senior market strategist with ING U.S. Investment Management. "It's all going to be about earnings, because earnings are the driver of the market in the long run."

The S&P 500 index rose 7.04 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,871.89. The index has risen five straight days, its longest streak of gains since October.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 40.71 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,449.25. The Nasdaq composite gained 26.03 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,121.55.

Halliburton rose $2.02, or 3 percent, to $62.92 after the company turned a profit in the first quarter following a loss in the same period a year ago. Last year the company set aside money for litigation over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Hasbro rose $1.05, or 1.9 percent, to $55.66 after its earnings came in higher than investors were expecting, driven by sales of girls' toys such as My Little Pony and Nerf Rebelle.

Stocks also got a lift from an encouraging economic report.

An index designed to predict future economic growth rose in March for the third month in a row, an encouraging sign after harsh winter weather slowed down the U.S. economy. The Conference Board said Monday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.8 percent in March after a 0.5 percent rise in February and a modest 0.2 percent gain in January.

"The data are suggesting that we will gain economic momentum," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial. "There is a sense, more and more, that the economy won't run into another soft patch this year."

Reports of a potential merger also boosted the market.

Newmont Mining jumped $1.42, or 6 percent, to $24.95 following reports that the mining company was considering a merger with Barrick Gold. The two companies are seeking to cut costs after a slump in metals prices.

Allergan, which makes the anti-wrinkle treatment Botox, surged in after-hours trading on news that the activist investor William Ackman was teaming up with Valeant Pharmaceuticals to buy the company. Allergan's stock jumped $28, or 20 percent, to $170.

This week though, investors' focus will largely be on corporate earnings.

McDonald's, Delta Air Lines and Apple are among the 159 companies in the S&P 500 that are scheduled to report earnings this week. Together, the companies represent about a third of the value of the index.

After an unusually harsh winter, Wall Street's expectations for earnings are relatively low. So far, most companies are exceeding them.

S&P 500 companies are forecast to report an overall 1.1 percent decline in earnings for the period, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. If that forecast holds, it would mark the first decline in corporate earnings since the third quarter of 2009, when earnings fell 1.7 percent. About two-thirds of the companies that have reported earnings so far have exceeded analysts' expectations.

Stocks have stabilized over the last week after a volatile start to the month, when a sell-off in high-flying technology and biotechnology stocks pushed the overall market lower. The S&P 500 climbed 2.7 percent last week, recovering its loss from a week earlier.

Bond prices were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged down to 2.71 percent from 2.72 percent.

Among other stocks making big moves:

- Athenahealth, a provider of online health-record services, slumped $9.99, or 7 percent, to $135.59 after the company reported earnings that fell short of analysts' estimates.

- Netflix rose $20.10, or 6 percent, to $368.30 in after-hours trading after the online video streaming company said its first-quarter earnings soared as another season of the popular political drama "House of Cards" helped attract an additional 2.25 million subscribers.
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