Stocks mixed on first day of earnings season

Stocks wandered between small gains and losses early Monday as traders looked ahead to Alcoa Inc.’s fourth-quarter results, the unofficial start of corporate earnings season.

Alcoa will release its financial results after the market closes. The aluminum company is seen as an economic bellwether because many industries use its products.

Alcoa rose 2.2 percent, the most of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average. It fell 2.1 percent on Friday after Alcoa said it will reduce its smelting capacity by 12 percent by closing smelters in the U.S. and Europe. An analyst predicted that Alcoa will post its first quarterly loss since the recession.

The Dow rose 4 points to 12,364 in the first half-hour of trading. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1, or 0.1 percent, to 1,278. The Nasdaq composite index rose 6, or 0.2 percent, to 2,679.

The Nasdaq is now up 2.9 percent for the year, compared to 1.2 percent for the Dow and 1.7 percent for the S&P 500.

European markets were roughly flat as French and German leaders met to craft a regional fiscal treaty they agreed to pursue last year. It was their first crisis summit of 2012, after numerous such events last year.

The treaty aims to impose stronger oversight over the budgets of countries that use the euro. Excessive borrowing by nations such as Greece and Italy are weighing down the European economy and threatening stronger countries, such as Germany and France.

The French and German leaders stressed that they view boosting growth a priority, despite widespread spending cuts that are expected to slow economic activity in the region.

Germany’s DAX and London’s FTSE 100 each fell 0.3 percent, France’s CAC 40 rose 0.1 percent.

Chinese markets rose after Premier Wen Jiabao promised to encourage lending to entrepreneurs who have been battered by weak global demand. Lending was tightened last year to cool China’s overheated economy. The nation has reversed course in recent months after global demand slumped, which hurt exporters and resulted in widespread layoffs.

In corporate news:

? CareFusion Corp. plunged 6 percent, the most in the S&P 500 index. The San Diego-based medical device maker announced preliminary results that were weaker than analysts had expected.

? Inhibitex Inc. soared 42 percent after Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said over the weekend that it would buy the Alpharetta, Ga. maker of hepatitis C medicine for $2.5 billion. Other developers of hepatitis C treatments also rallied sharply. Idenix Pharmaceuticals Inc. jumped 34 percent and Achillon Pharmaceuticals Inc. rose 10 percent.


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