US STOCKS-Wall St edges higher on industrial gains; healthcare drags again

(For a live blog on the U.S. stock market, click LIVE/ ortype LIVE/ in a news window.)

* Retail sales post biggest gain in 1-1/2 yrs in March

* Healthcare skids for 3rd session

* Indexes up: Dow 0.44%, S&P 0.19%, Nasdaq 0.01% (Changes comment, updates prices)

By Amy Caren Daniel and Sruthi Shankar

April 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks eked out gains in volatiletrading on Thursday, ahead of a long Easter weekend, as strongresults from industrials countered another drop in healthcarestocks, with investors shrugging off release of the Muellerreport.

In a bright spot, U.S. retail sales increased by the most in1-1/2 years in March, while a labor department report showed thenumber of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped toits lowest in nearly 50 years last week, further underscoringthe economy's strength.

Stocks have rallied from a slump late-last year, putting thebenchmark S&P 500 index .SPX about 1% away from its closingrecord high hit in September.

"We have had a big run-up here on the belief that economicdata would improve and it has come to fruition," said BrentSchutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern MutualWealth Management Co in Milwaukee.

Details of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigationinto Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election were releasedduring the session and showed a series of incidents in whichPresident Donald Trump took actions to impede the probe thatraised questions of whether he committed the crime ofobstruction of justice.

Mueller did not make a conclusion on whether Trump hadcommitted obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate himeither.

"I don't think there is much of a surprise, we'll see whatcomes out over the next few days and maybe we'll get moreinformation," said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist atJonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Providing the biggest support to markets was a 1.09% rise inindustrial stocks, after a batch of upbeat earnings reports.

Union Pacific CorpUNP.N jumped 4.6%, while HoneywellInternational Inc's shares HON.N rose 3.4% afterbetter-than-expected quarterly profits.

However, the healthcare sector fell for a third session in arow, now down 0.15%, plagued by ongoing concerns of tighterregulations.

At 12:48 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 116.37 points, or 0.44%, at 26,565.91. The S&P 500 .SPX was up 5.65 points, or 0.19%, at 2,906.10 and the NasdaqComposite .IXIC was up 0.97 points, or 0.01%, at 7,997.05.

Of the 77 S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, about78% have beaten earnings estimates, according to Refinitiv data.

Analysts now expect first-quarter profits for S&P 500companies to have dropped 1.7% year-on-year, an improvement fromrecent estimates, but still the first earnings contraction since2016.

Insurer Travelers Cos IncTRV.N rose 2.8%, and helpedboost the Dow, after quarterly profit beat estimates.

Online scrapbook company Pinterest IncPINS.N surged 25%in debut, signaling increased investor appetite for new techlistings.

U.S. stock markets will be closed on Good Friday.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.05-to-1 ratioon the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a1.11-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 32 new 52-week highs and two newlows, while the Nasdaq recorded 36 new highs and 64 new lows. (Reporting by Amy Caren Daniel and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru;Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila) ((Amy.CarenDaniel@thomsonreuters.com ; within U.S.+1-646-223-8780; outside U.S. +91 80 6749 9250 ; ReutersMessaging: Amy.CarenDaniel.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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