Stocks little changed as earnings fail to inspire

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NEW YORK -- Stocks were flat on Wall Street as the latest round of earnings reports failed to give investors an impetus to push the market's recent rally forward.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 7.22 points to 13,986.52 on Wednesday, after trading slightly lower for most of the day. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.83 point to 1,512.12. The Nasdaq composite was three points lower at 3,168.48.

Time Warner rose $2.05, or 4.1 percent, to $52.01 after the company said its net income grew 51 percent in the last three months of 2012 even as revenue was largely unchanged. Marathon Oil Corp. fell 32 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $34.40 after its fourth-quarter net income fell 41 percent on higher exploration costs and taxes.

Stocks are consolidating their gains after surging since the start of the year.

"There's no question that we need to take a pause and let reality catch up," said Jim Russell, an investment director at U.S. Bank.

"We've had a really nice move up here, whether we graduate to the next level, I think is questionable," said Ben Schwarz, chief market strategist at Light Speed Financial. "We're looking for something to spark it."

More than half of the companies in the S&P 500 have now reported earnings for the fourth quarter and analysts are expecting earnings for the period to rise by 6 percent, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. That puts earnings growth on track to increase for the third straight quarter after slowing to 0.81 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

As investors have become more comfortable holding riskier assets like stocks, they have cut their holdings in defensive investments like U.S. government bonds, sending yields on those bonds higher.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, has risen more than 20 basis points since the start of the year and is trading close to its highest level since April. The yield fell 4 basis points to 1.96 percent Wednesday.

Among other stocks making big moves:

• Ralph Lauren surged $9.72, or 5.9 percent, to $174.63 after the designer clothing company posted a 27 percent increase in income. The company is reporting strong spending among its affluent shoppers in the U.S. and improving trends in Europe.

• Walt Disney rose 23 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $54.52 after the company posted fiscal first-quarter profits that exceeded analysts' expectations. The entertainment giant's stock rose to a record $55.50, boosted by optimism about the earnings potential of its networks, movies and theme parks.

• Aflac fell $2.31, or 4.3 percent, to $51.18 after the insurer reported its fourth quarter earnings late Tuesday. RBC Capital Markets cut their forecast for the company's 2013 earnings to reflect the impact of a weaker Japanese yen. Aflac earns a significant portion of its revenues in Japan.

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