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After The Close - After a mixed session yesterday, most U.S. equities registered positive gains on Thursday. Advancing shares outnumbered declining issues by a 1.6-to-1.0 ratio, a bullish turnaround from yesterday’s slight selloff of small- and mid-cap stocks. The financial and energy sectors led the charge, offsetting modest weakness in other areas, such as healthcare and utilities. Once again, each of the large-cap indexes hit intraday trading highs a little after lunchtime. But unlike yesterday, they all remained close to these high levels as the closing bell rang.

As Corporate America prepares for the upcoming third-quarter earnings season, the averages continue to tick higher as solid economic data and renewed hope for tax reform take hold of investors’ sentiment. Today saw initial weekly jobless claims dip to 260,000, which pleased traders. Moreover, the country’s trade gap narrowed and factory orders rebounded in August, bolstering optimism for the economy. Tomorrow’s nonfarm payroll release from the Labor Department will be closely watched, as it will serve as a major bellwether for the Federal Reserve’s near-term monetary policy.

Meanwhile, U.S. crude oil bounced back after spending most of the week retreating from prior strength. The commodity rose 1.6% per-barrel largely on news that Russia and Saudi Arabia were in favor of extending OPEC’s output reduction accord through 2018. This optimistic news item helped to quell a recent decline in energy prices, which saw U.S. crude finish Wednesday’s session a couple pennies below the $50 mark. While we expect more profit taking to occur in the coming weeks, the market’s rate of stabilization ought to accelerate along with the cuts.

So, as Thursday’s session came to a close, the NASDAQ 100 was the strongest performing composite group. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average were strong in their own right, advancing 14 and 114 points, respectively. While the Labor Department’s release tomorrow morning will grab the headlines, we expect profit takers to perhaps cut into recently elevated valuations as the week comes to a close. - Robert Harrington

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

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12:15 PM EDT - Equities are pressing nicely ahead again today, as traders look to extend recent gains. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is ahead 80 points; the S&P 500 Index is up 10 points; and the technology-heavy NASDAQ is higher by 27 points. Market breadth shows solid support for stocks, as advancers are leading decliners on the NYSE. From a sector vantage point, the consumer non-cyclical issues and financial names are driving the market higher today, offsetting weakness in the healthcare space.

Meanwhile, in economic news, initial jobless claims dipped to 260,000 for the week of September 30th, which was a solid showing. The nation’s trade gap narrowed to $42.4 billion in August, which was a positive development, too. Finally, factory orders increased 1.2% in August, after declining in July. Tomorrow, the government will release the nonfarm payroll numbers for the month of September. Given concerns about the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate policy, that report will not go unnoticed.

Finally, just a few corporations posted their financial results over the past 24 hours. Of the more widely followed names, Constellation Brands (STZ) stock is rising today, after the beverage company posted a solid report. After the market closes today, we will hear from retail giant Costco (COST).

Technically, the market continues to rally, with several key averages at new high ground. Traders are likely looking for progress on tax reform efforts and a solid third-quarter earnings 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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Before The Bell - Following a very strong start to the fourth quarter on Monday and Tuesday, Wall Street began yesterday's session with a collective yawn, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, fresh off a pair of all-time highs, gained a bit further in early dealings, while the S&P 500 Index and the NASDAQ, both of which also soared to records the first two trading days of this week, eased back slightly. All told, it was an unprepossessing start rather than a major reversal. Leading the early way lower were the technology stocks, following some nice gains earlier in the week.    

Meanwhile, in business news, the economy continued to do rather well, in spite of the damage caused late this past summer by the pair of deadly hurricanes that struck Texas and Florida, respectively. On point, two days after the Institute for Supply Management reported a strong increase in manufacturing activity in September, with that survey climbing to a multi-year high of 60.8, that same organization posted an equally impressive result in non-manufacturing activity, as that index rose to 59.8, on stellar performances in new orders, employment, prices, and backlogs. The reading was the best of the year by far.   

Also, the Street continues to look out over the next few days when the government's employment report is due out, with that key issuance set for release tomorrow morning at 8:30 (EDT). Expectations are that job growth will have stepped back a good deal in September, reflecting the disruptions caused by the aforementioned hurricanes. Also, traders remain hopeful that both earnings and the government's try at tax reform will bring good news in the coming weeks. So, stocks refuse to pull back. As for the morning's trading, after the weaker start, the S&P joined the Dow in positive territory as noon approached, but the NASDAQ held lower.

As to individual stories, shares of Mylan (MYL) soared in early action on news the FDA had approved the generic version of a TEVA Pharmaceutical (TEVA) drug to treat multiple sclerosis. TEVA shares, up sharply in dealings on Monday, understandably fell back on this surprising development. Elsewhere, things were more stable, as the Dow and the S&P 500 held modest gains as we moved into the afternoon hours, while the NASDAQ, once off 18 points, had pulled even for a time in the late-morning. With sentiment continuing to be upbeat, another constructive session appeared likely as traders returned from lunch.  

The market then continued higher for a time, but as we moved inside the final two hours of trading, the NASDAQ, which earlier had jumped to an all-time high foundered, as did the S&P Mid-Cap 400, and the small-cap Russell 2000. Little more than profit taking seemed afoot, though. Indeed, the Dow continued higher into the late stages of the afternoon, but was well off its beat levels. The market's narrow move to the upside persisted into the close, with the Dow ending matters up 20 points; the S&P 500 was ahead by three points; and the NASDAQ also stayed three points to the good. But the Russell 2000 closed off, as did the S&P 400.    

Looking ahead to the penultimate trading session of the week, stocks have put in a higher session across Asia, while in Europe, the main bourses are tracking a bit lower at this hour. In other markets, Treasury issue yields, off slightly again yesterday, are now moving nominally lower once more; gold, which rose yesterday, but has fallen below $1,300 an ounce in recent weeks, is headed up once more thus far this morning, and oil, a loser for a third time in as many days yesterday, is steady in early action today. Finally, U.S. futures are moving a tad lower in early action this morning.   - Harvey S. Katz 

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