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Stocks ended mixed on Thursday in light trading before a long holiday weekend, with the S&P 500 extending gains into a fourth session, as General Electric and Morgan Stanley reported quarterly results that topped expectations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished unofficially 16 points down, but the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were marginally higher.

"Earnings last night were pathetic and sad, and today they are not so bad," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.

"I'm happy to see GE have good earnings today. It's hard to think of a business they are not involved in. They are just a great synthetic play to everything in the world. The other thing that was a surprise was that Morgan Stanley actually reported good earnings on fixed income," he added.

GE gained after posting a profit that edged beyond estimates and Morgan Stanley rose nearly 3 percent after the investment bank reported a gain in first-quarter income. Goldman Sachs gained after reporting an 11 percent drop in first-quarter profit, as the brokerage's results surpassed estimates.

"IBM is certainly weighing on the Dow, and Google is weighing on the Nasdaq," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital, of the technology companies that reported disappointing results after Wednesday's close.

"Earnings so far haven't been all that negative, at least among the big names, so perhaps some of the worries were somewhat unfounded. But we're just at the beginning and we still have some big names to view," said Cardillo, who chalked up Thursday's declines in part to "profit-taking after yesterday's surge rather than any real second thoughts about earnings in general."

Ahead of the open, stock futures held mild gains after the government reported 304,000 Americans filed for jobless benefits last week, less than the 315,000 estimated by analysts.