Strong earnings fuel markets to end week on a high note

NEW YORK – Stronger profits from Microsoft, McDonald’s and other major U.S. corporations pushed stocks higher Friday. Optimism from Europe helped brighten the mood.

The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had a winning week for the first time this month.

“There’s been a wrestling match all week long between strong earnings and weak economic data,” said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors, the money-management firm. “At the moment, earnings are winning.”

Apple sank 2.5 percent, helping to tug the Nasdaq composite index down 7.11 points to 3,000.45.

Before the market opened, McDonald’s posted better quarterly profits, buoyed by warm weather and sales of new menu items like Chicken McBites and oatmeal. Sales picked up even in Europe, McDonald’s’ biggest market.

Microsoft beat analysts’ projections with quarterly earnings and revenue, and sales in its Windows division were surprisingly strong. And General Electric posted a profit of more than $3 billion, helped by orders for locomotives, aircraft engines and other equipment.

The Dow rose 65.16 points to close at 13,029.26. The S&P 500 added 1.61 points to 1,378.53.

After nine straight quarters of growth, earnings for S&P 500 companies were expected to be nearly flat. But eight of every 10 companies that have reported so far, including Coca-Cola and IBM, have beaten estimates. As a result, first-quarter earnings are now projected to rise 4.4 percent, according to S&P.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX rose 1.2 percent, and stock indexes in France and Spain were higher.

Sales of homes in Maine rise for ninth month in a row

Sales of existing single-family homes in Maine increased by 13.16 percent in March, marking the ninth consecutive month of growth, according to the Maine Real Estate Information System Inc.

Statewide, 731 single-family homes sold in March, compared with 646 homes in March 2011. The median sales price increased 0.19 percent to $160,000, the first increase since July 2011.

“Considering the consistent increase in transaction volume over the past nine months, it seems the ‘wait and see’ attitude is waning,” said Tina Lucas of Lucas Real Estate, president of the Maine Association of Realtors.

Nationally, sales of existing single-family homes rose 5.9 percent in March, with a median sales price of $163,000, up 1.9 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales in the Northeast were up 5.5 percent, but prices dropped 1.9 percent, to $228,300.

Iraq loads crude oil as it moves to increase income

BASRA, Iraq – Iraq began loading crude oil Friday from a second offshore export terminal in the Persian Gulf, part of a major project to boost Iraq’s income.

Also Friday, the government agreed to allow ExxonMobil Corp. to continue working in one of Iraq’s biggest oil fields.

The new terminal is the second of five that will eventually handle about 5 million barrels a day. They will help Iraq to bring in sorely needed cash for reconstruction after decades of war and international sanctions.

— From news service reports