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After The Close - The stock market got off to a weak start this morning, but managed to selectively firm up as the session progressed. At the end of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up nominally; the broader S&P 500 Index was ahead four points; and the NASDAQ was higher by 21 points. Market breadth showed a mixed session, with advancers about even with decliners on the NYSE. From a sector perspective, the consumer and technology names displayed leadership, offsetting weakness in the energy and financial issues.

It was a quiet day for economic news. However, there was one item that might be of interest to traders following the energy sector. Of note, according to the EIA, crude oil inventories rose 2.2 million barrels during the latest reported week. This report may have taken some commodity traders by surprise, and may explain the slight pullback in the price of oil today. Meanwhile, tomorrow will be a busier day, as the weekly initial jobless claims are due out. Wholesale inventories for the month of September will also be reported.

Elsewhere, the third-quarter earnings season is not yet over. Over the past 24 hours we heard from Take-Two Interactive (TTWO). Shares of the game publisher moved higher, in response to an upbeat report. Meanwhile, shares of Humana (HUM) sank, as investors had some concerns about the insurance company’s business outlook.

Technically, stocks continue to hold up well. With the third-quarter earnings season drawing to a close, many on Wall Street are likely wondering if the market will be able to rally through the holiday season. - Adam Rosner

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

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11:45 AM EST - Stocks are taking a breather today following a record run that has seen new highs regularly set on the major indexes. Right around the noon hour on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 23, and the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ are not showing much movement. Market breadth is somewhat bearish, with decliners ahead of advancing issues.

It is not as if the bull market’s major drivers have evaporated. But there may not be as much fuel readily on hand in the form of strong earnings now that reporting season is winding down.
Higher corporate profits, the synchronized acceleration of the global economy, and a benign interest-rate environment have provided a strong base for stocks to move higher.

A more business-friendly tone engendered by the Trump Administration is also proving supportive, although the end result of tax reform initiatives could well play a role in investor sentiment before long.

Companies still reporting earnings include real estate website operator Zillow (Z), which reported better-than-expected results on its top and bottom lines. A hot housing market is a clear plus, as the company noted a 7% annual rise in home prices has come about largely as the number of homes for sale has dropped 12% in the past year.

The improved performance isn’t helping the stock, though, on a thus-far lackluster day for trading. Proposed limitations for mortgage-interest deductions in the tax bill now in Congress have cooled interest in housing-related issues, too.

On the down side, shares of Snap (SNAP) are falling on high volume after the camera-focused company turned in disappointing results. Heavy competition appears to be sapping customer growth.

In other markets, the price of a barrel of crude oil is down nearly $0.50 to around $56.74 in NYMEX trading after the Energy Department reported that domestic production rose to its highest level since 2015. Meanwhile, a build in oil inventories was largely offset by a decline in gasoline inventories. Oil quotations have been drawing strength lately on signs of instability in Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest producer by far.

Heading into the afternoon session, stocks are little changed. The defensive consumer staples group is the leader among the market’s major sectors. - Robert Mitkowski

At the time of this writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.

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Before The Bell - Following a mixed close on Wall Street to start the week on Monday, as an early rally selectively faded, the bulls began yesterday's session with high hopes once again. And for a time, their optimism was well founded, as stocks began the day in fine fashion, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing quickly to a gain of more than 50 points. As has been the case for several weeks, the focus was on earnings, with one key difference. Now, instead of the large household names making the headlines, we were seeing a succession of lesser-profile companies having issued their results.

And the news has been mixed, to say the least. Thus, upbeat results and a bullish outlook propelled shares of weight loss provider Weight Watchers (WTW) strongly higher, with that stock up some 20% early on, before its gain faded some later on. It was another story for the ailing drug maker Mallinckrodt (MNK), though. Although that company topped third-quarter profit forecasts, it missed on the revenue line, forcing the issue down by about a third in early action. All the while, stocks held their ground early, but the negative news apparently was too much for the bulls, and the rally wilted later in the morning.

Indeed, as the noon hour arrived in New York, the Dow had moved more than 50 points into the minus column; the NASDAQ, under pressure from technology reversals, was off by some 30 points; and the S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the small-cap dominated Russell 2000 were each off by almost a full percentage point at that time, giving the market an overall weak tone at the halfway mark of trading. Looking at the other sectors, eight of the 10 leading equity categories were lower at that time, with the just the perceived safety of the utilities and the consumer non-cyclical issues gaining, while losing stocks solid lead on gaining issues on the NYSE.  

Things then steadied as the afternoon got under way, with the worst of the declines easing, particularly for the Dow and the S&P 500. However, the S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the Russell 2000 remained closer to their session lows than not, while the advance-decline ratios showed little comeback as the day moved along. Also, eight of the 10 key equity groups, off at mid-session, remained lower later in the day. Thus, as we headed into the final stretch, the market held a weaker tone to it, with profit taking one factor, and a series of earnings missteps also contributing. 

Meanwhile, another influence on trading is the sense that combinations could be forming in the entertainment space. For the most part, though, the focus is on earnings, the economy, and the possibility of tax reform, as the two parties in Washington are attempting to secure an agreement on that subject by yearend, or before the mid-term election cycle really gets under way next year. Overall, as we moved into the final minutes of trading, the bears continued to hold the lead, but it was not a major selloff by any means.      

In fact, as the session ended, the Dow actually turned positive, gaining nine points as the final bell sounded. The S&P 500 was barely lower, meantime, but the rest of the market finished lower in a dull and somewhat directionless encore to a ho-hum Monday. Now, as we look out to the rest of the week, we see that stocks ended matters in a slight downtrend in Asia in overnight trading. In Europe, meantime, the early action is a tad weaker as well. Also, oil is nominally lower at this hour; and the U.S. equity futures are signaling a flat-to-lower start to the new trading day stateside.   - Harvey S. Katz 

At the time of this article’s writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.