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Stocks close higher ahead of State of the Union address

CNBC logo CNBC 2/5/2019 Fred Imbert
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Stocks ended higher Tuesday as the corporate earnings season rolled on and as traders awaited President Donald Trump's State of the Union address.

The Dow closed 172 points higher, led by Apple and Intel. The Nasdaq gained 0.74 percent, while the S&P 500 added 0.47 percent on the back of gains from the tech and consumer sectors.

Alphabet, Seagate Technology and Estee Lauder are among the companies that have reported better-than-expected earnings. However, Alphabet traded slightly lower as the company also revealed declining advertising prices and rising costs. Seagate shares also dipped 1 percent.

Estee Lauder, meanwhile, jumped 12 percent on better-than-expected results. The company also raised its 2019 earnings guidance. Archer-Daniels Midland fell 6.7 percent after reporting weaker-than-expected earnings and revenue.

Nearly half of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings through Tuesday morning, with about 70 percent of those companies topping analyst expectations, according to The Earnings Scout.

"However, the beat rates are running below last quarter as the overall year-over-year rates of sales and earnings growth has decelerated," said Nick Raich, CEO of The Earnings Scout, in a note to clients. "Most importantly, 1Q 2019 through 3Q 2019 S&P 500 EPS growth expectations continue to go lower with some providers already showing negative growth."

FactSet data show that corporate earnings for the first quarter are expected to decline by 0.8 percent. Raich said, however, he expects earnings to continue growing in the first half of 2019. He added the negative estimates are mostly a byproduct of "low-balled estimates."

Disney, Electronic Arts, Snap and Spirit Airlines are among the companies scheduled to report after the bell Tuesday.

Wall Street also looked ahead to the State of the Union, which comes more than a week after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history came to an end. Investors should be looking for clues on a number of matters, including U.S.-China trade talks.

"We expect an optimistic tone on President Trump's desire to strike a deal, but we remain cautious that these headlines are likely to whip around during any verification or enforcement phase," Ed Mills, public policy analyst at Raymond James, wrote in a note to clients.

The president could also make comments on drug pricing during the speech, as well as a possible infrastructure bill. Some stocks to watch heading into the speech include Fluor Corp, Jacobs Engineering, chipmaker Qorvo and Wynn Resorts, according to Strategas Research Partners.

But while Trump could strike a bipartisan approach on both of those fronts — which would be bullish for the market — the stalemate over the U.S.-Mexico border wall with Democrats could undercut that.

Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point, said Trump will likely dedicate a good chunk of his speech to his wall proposal. "We believe there will be an outsized focus on the border wall and the president could use this forum to build his case for unilateral administrative action on the wall (e.g., national emergency declaration)," Boltansky wrote in a note.

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