Updated July 31 at 5:31pm

U.S. stocks fluctuate on earnings reports before employment data

U.S. stocks swung between gains and losses, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rallied to a record, as investors watched corporate earnings to assess the strength of the economy before Tuesday’s employment data.

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U.S. stocks fluctuate on earnings reports before employment data

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NEW YORK - U.S. stocks swung between gains and losses, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rallied to a record, as investors watched corporate earnings to assess the strength of the economy before Tuesday’s employment data.

Homebuilders slumped 3.3 percent as a group amid a report showing existing-home sales declined for the first time in three months. Halliburton Co. dropped 1.9 percent as revenue fell short of forecasts. Apple Inc. rose 2.9 percent as CEO Tim Cook will likely introduce a high-definition iPad mini and thinner iPad Tuesday. General Electric Co. gained 2.6 percent to the highest level since 2008. VF Corp. and Hasbro Inc. climbed at least 4.2 percent on better-than-estimated earnings.

The S&P 500 lost less than 0.1 percent to 1,744.26 at 12:31 p.m. in New York, after rising as much as 0.2 percent earlier. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 11.86 points, or 0.1 percent, to 15,387.79. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was in line with the 30-day average during this time of day.

“There are certainly some digestions going on as these earnings are being reported,” Jim King, president and chief investment officer who helps oversee about $2.4 billion at Wyomissing, Pa.-based National Penn Investors Trust Co., said by phone. “What we know is that earnings are continuing to come through pretty strongly and the Fed continues to promote asset growth. Those two things are the drivers of seeing higher stock prices over the next several quarters.”

The S&P 500 had its best weekly gain since July last week as results from Google Inc. topped estimates and speculation grew that the Federal Reserve will delay cutting monetary stimulus. The index has gained 3.7 percent so far in October as Congress agreed on a new federal budget that avoided a default and ended the first partial government shutdown in 17 years.

New highs

The benchmark measure has advanced 22 percent this year as Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke refrained from reducing $85 billion of monthly bond purchases to stimulate the economy.

“The fact that we reached new highs is bullish,” Tom Wirth, a senior investment officer for Chemung Canal Trust Co., in Elmira, N.Y., said in a telephone interview. His firm manages $1.7 billion. “The trend is up and you don’t want to fight that. A lot of the attitude is recognition that quantitative easing is not going to stop any time soon and that’s positive for equities.”

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