Investors breathed a sigh of relief as soft fourth-quarter earnings reports from retailers including Target Corp. and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. were better than many had feared and analysts had projected.

The procession of not-as-bad-as-expected news continued after the markets closed as J.C. Penney Co. Inc. posted a fourth-quarter profit that, on an adjusted basis, translated into a smaller loss than the consensus estimate of analysts.

Up nearly 2 percent in midday trading, the S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group finished the session at 933.16, up 1.4 percent, for its fifth consecutive trading day of gains. That was its highest closing mark since it ended at 934.76 on Jan. 3.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.1 percent to 16,198.41 while the S&P 500 was virtually unchanged at 1,845.16.

Delia’s Inc. was the single biggest advancer among the retail, fashion and beauty stocks tracked by WWD, rising 24.2 percent to $1.20. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. managed the second largest gain,11.3 percent to close at $40.04, as its 58 percent decline in fourth-quarter profits, to $1.34 a share on an adjusted basis, was 31 cents better than analysts’ expectations.

Similarly, Target Corp. also rallied, with shares up 7 percent to $60.49, after its 46 percent drop in quarterly earnings was in line with its most recent projections.

However, The TJX Cos. Inc. saw its shares drop 1.2 percent to $60.29 when, despite higher revenues, its EPS for the quarter fell 1 cent shy of consensus estimates.

Penney’s reported its results after the close of the markets. Shares were up 5.3 percent to $5.96 before their release and an additional 3.9 percent, to $6.19, in the immediate aftermath.

Among those with declines, shares of Coldwater Creek Inc. fell 6.4 percent to 78 cents on the day while Birks Group Inc. surrendered 4.1 percent to close at $1.18.

European stock markets dipped into negative territory on concerns about growth in emerging markets, with London’s FTSE 100 leading the way.

The British market was down 0.5 percent to 6,799.15, followed by the CAC 40 in Paris and the DAX in Frankfurt, which both fell 0.4 percent to 4,396.91 and to 9,661.73 respectively. The FTSE MIB in Milan was also down 0.4 percent, to 20,398.10.

Retail and luxury stocks were mostly down, with the exception of Moncler, which ticked up 1.5 percent to 13.40 euros; Gemfields, 2.1 percent to 36 pence, and Aeffe, 1.4 percent to 0.85 euros.

Among the stocks that lost the most ground were Kering, 2.2 percent to 149.60 euros; LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, 1.6 percent to 135.15 euros; Metro AG, 1.4 percent to 31.34 euros, and L’Oréal, 1.3 percent to 123.55 euros.

The euro traded at $1.37 against the U.S. dollar, while the pound fetched $1.67, and the Swiss franc equaled $1.13.

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