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US STOCKS-S&P, Nasdaq enjoy boost from big tech firms, Dow dips

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(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window.) 

  * Disney slips as Barclays downgrades to 'equal weight' 

  * Consumer discretionary sector leads S&P gainers 

  * Dow down 0.21%, S&P up 0.18%, Nasdaq up 0.62% (Adds analyst comment, updates prices to late afternoon) 

  By Devik Jain, Shreyashi Sanyal and Sinéad Carew 

  Oct 18 (Reuters) - The S&P and Nasdaq were gaining on Monday with a helping hand from heavyweight technology companies as investors appeared optimistic about the third-quarter earnings season. 

  While stocks were under pressure in early trading due to concerns about slowing economic growth in China and inflation, particularly in oil prices, the S&P had turned firmly positive by late morning. 

  Five of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were last higher, led by consumer discretionary, technology, and communications services. 

  In technology, Apple Inc was up 0.6% as investors digested the company's unveiling of new Mac laptop computers with more powerful processor chips. 

  With just a small minority of companies having reported quarterly results so far, investors were hopeful for some good news ahead and looking for places to invest their cash, according to John Augustine, chief investment officer at Huntington National Bank in Columbus, Ohio. 

  "It feels like a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) is going on, mixed with this wall of cash on the sidelines," said Augustine, noting that active managers were turning to stocks to position themselves for the fourth quarter and that "individuals are realizing that they're not going to get a return for bonds or cash this year." By 2:28 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 72.44 points, or 0.21%, to 35,222.32, the S&P 500 gained 8.23 points, or 0.18%, to 4,479.6 and the Nasdaq Composite added 92.84 points, or 0.62%, to 14,990.18. 

  Sentiment was damper earlier in the day after China recorded its slowest pace of economic growth in a year for the third quarter, hurt by power shortages and wobbles in the property sector. 

  But investors were encouraged by what they saw in U.S. earnings reports so far while keeping a focus on how companies mitigate the impact on earnings from supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages and higher costs. 

  "There is some weak data out of China, which is concerning on a global basis, and then market participants came into this earnings with a very pessimistic view but banks dramatically exceeded expectations," said Thomas Hayes, managing member at Great Hill Capital Llc in New York. 

  Forecast-beating results from big U.S. lenders last week set a positive tone for third-quarter earnings season, with analysts expecting S&P 500 earnings to show a 32% rise from a year ago, according to Refinitiv data. 

  Among the S&P's top boosts for the session so far was Tesla Inc, up 3.5%, ahead of its earnings report this week. Other megacap technology companies on the rise included Facebook Inc, up 3%, Microsoft Corp up 0.9% and Amazon.com Inc up 0.8%, in addition to Apple's gains. 

  Johnson & Johnson, Netflix Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and oilfield services company Baker Hughes Co are also due to report quarterly results this week. 

  Walt Disney Co slipped 3% after Barclays downgraded the media giant's stock to "equal weight" from "overweight." 

  Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.17-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.29-to-1 ratio favored decliners. 

  The S&P 500 posted 36 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 55 new highs and 100 new lows. (Reporting by Sinead Carew in New York and by Devik Jain and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru Editing by Arun Koyyur and Matthew Lewis) 

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