* Financials top losers among S&P sectors
* Three big U.S. banks to report results on Thursday
* Indexes down: Dow 0.2 pct, S&P 0.3 pct, Nasdaq 0.3 pct (Updates to late afternoon)
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, April 10 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were higher in choppy trading Monday as gains in energy shares offset losses in financials ahead of quarterly earnings later this week.
The S&P energy index, up 1.1 percent, was the best-performing S&P 500 sector in late-day trading, following gains in oil prices.
Investors prepared for the start of quarterly profit reports, with earnings of S&P 500 companies estimated to have risen 10.1 percent in the first three months of the year. The index is currently trading at 17.4 times forward earnings estimates, above its long-term average of 15, according to Thomson Reuters data.
JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are scheduled to report earnings on Thursday and could throw some light on the U.S. banking industry’s performance amid a rally in financial shares since the election of President Donald Trump.
However, bank stocks have retreated of late as investors question lofty valuations and Trump’s ability to swiftly introduce simpler regulations and other policies following the failure of a healthcare reform bill.
The S&P 500 financial sector was off 0.56 percent, dragged down by Bank of America, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo.
“A lot of the rally that’s occurred since the election has been predicated on the 10-year Treasury yield rising and a steepening yield curve. Over the past few months, we’ve flattened,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut. “The banks in general still have the post-election gain, but the catalyst behind that seems to be reversing, so that could be a risk here.”
At 2:53 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 48.86 points, or 0.24 percent, to 20,704.96, the S&P 500 had gained 6.7 points, or 0.28 percent, to 2,362.24 and the Nasdaq Composite had added 14.51 points, or 0.25 percent, to 5,892.32.
Thursday will be the last trading day of the week on Wall Street ahead of the Good Friday holiday.
Geopolitical tensions added to investor unease. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday the military strikes against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons were a warning to other nations, including North Korea, that “a response is likely” if they pose a danger.
Traders attributed a stock dip around noon to unverified rumors stemming from weekend news related to North Korea.
A U.S. official told Reuters over the weekend that a U.S. Navy strike group will be moving toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, as concerns grow about North Korea’s advancing weapons program.
Straight Path Communications surged nearly two-fold to $89.71 after AT&T offered a huge premium to buy the owner of wireless spectrum licenses.
Swift Transportation jumped 23.6 percent to $24.73 after agreeing to a merger with fellow trucking company Knight Transportation. Knight’s shares were up 13.8 percent.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.62-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.15-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 8 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 66 new highs and 34 new lows. (Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and James Dalgleish)