After The Close - The U.S. stock market traded lower for most of the session, but managed to come off its lows in the afternoon. At the close of the day in New York, the major averages finished mixed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average actually ended up about 20 points (0.2%); while the broader S&P 500 Index ended lower by just two points (-0.2%); and the NASDAQ was down nine points (-0.3%). Nonetheless, many stocks were off today, as declining issues outnumbered advancers by a small margin on the NYSE.  A look at the various market sectors helps determine where some of the session’s weakness was located. Notably, the financial issues were off sharply, and this stands in sharp contrast to the relatively strong showing that they put in yesterday. There were also losses in the energy stocks. Meanwhile, there was some positive leadership in the basic materials group, and in the consumer names.

Some of the weakness this morning may have had to do with a mixed batch of economic news. Just before the market opened, the Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims for the week ended March 24th came in at 359,000, which was a bit higher than the figure many analysts had been anticipating. Elsewhere, there was no revision to the GDP issuance, as the economy grew at 3.0% during the fourth quarter. Tomorrow, we get a look at a number of reports, including the personal spending and income figures for February. Also due out are the Chicago PMI for March and the University of Michigan’s final consumer sentiment report for March.

The corporate news was mixed today. In the technology area, Redhat (RHT) reported strong quarterly results, sending that stock sharply higher. In the chemical sector, Mosaic (MOS) failed to impress investors with its report, as that stock was off sharply. In retail, shares of Best Buy (BBY) also declined, after the company posted its results. With the March quarter now closing, we should start to receive some earnings news. Typically, financial are among the first to post results, and many investors are likely looking for confirmation that this key sector is on the mend.

Technically, the market has been consolidating over the past couple of weeks. This is not unusual, especially given the large run up logged in the first half of the month. Importantly, the trading volumes have been quite light on down days, suggesting that there has not really been any concentrated selling worthy of alarm. Moreover, we saw some strong buy-the-dip behavior in the afternoon today, and that is always a good sign. – Adam Rosner

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


12:20 PM ET- Stocks are pulling back today on economic data that failed to inspire. Unrevised fourth quarter 2011 GDP that registered 3.0% and a weekly unemployment claims number that still suggests gains are occurring in the job market have not sparked the bullish feelings that have reigned on Wall Street this year. As a result, investors are locking in profits on this next-to-last trading day of the March quarter.

In general, there is a feeling that stocks have come too far, too fast, and that a modest correction is in order unless there is overwhelmingly favorable economic data. Although the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up ''only'' 7% coming into today, many of the major averages have posted double-digit advances in less than three months time, with the tech-laden NASDAQ up an eye-popping 19%. In one sense, those types of gains run counter to what might be expected with uneven growth in the United States and emerging nations, such as China, plus the likelihood of a mild recession in Europe.

Just past the noon hour on the East Coast, stocks are off their lows, but remain in negative territory, with the Dow and the NASDAQ shedding 74 points and 31 points, respectively. Market breadth is decidedly bearish, as well, with many more stocks declining than advancing.

At the sector level, transportation stocks are among the weakest. JetBlue Airways (JBLU) is down sharply percentage-wise, after a serious in-flight problem with one of its pilots earlier this week. The energy sector is also taking it on the chin, with shares of coal producers Alliance Resources (ARLP) and Penn Virginia (PVA) under pressure. Coal’s use in utilities for generating electric power may diminish as environmental concerns take hold. Oil stocks, such as Occidental Petroleum (OXY), are off, as well, with price of crude oil lower by more than $2 a barrel today. And financial stocks, which have enjoyed a big run lately, are giving back some of their gains.

As might be expected with the selloff in stocks, the bond market is having a good day, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury falling three basis points, to 2.16%, as prices rise.

The bond market appears to be drawing support from rising uncertainty in Spain, where striking workers in the transportation and sanitation sectors are causing some disruption. Unions are protesting proposed austerity measures expected to be voted on tomorrow. Spain is reeling from high unemployment, and there are concerns that it could be the next euro-zone nation to require a bailout.

On the whole, though, today’s selling seems a normal reaction to business news that was not overly compelling in a stock market that may have gotten ahead of itself.  -Robert Mitkowski

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


Stocks to Watch from The Survey

Excluding a large restructuring charge, electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY) has reported better-than-expected February-period earnings. However, the top line disappointed investors, who bid the stock lower in premarket trading. The company also announced cost-cutting initiatives and store closures.

Swiss drug company Roche has increased its unsolicited offer to buy Illumina (ILMN), a medical supplies company, from $44.50 a share to $51.00. Illumina stock moved modestly higher in premarket trading.

After the market closes today, smartphone maker Research In Motion (RIMM), e-commerce provider TIBCO Software (TIBX), and machinery company Cascade Corp. (CASC) are scheduled to report quarterly financial results. – Matthew E. Spencer

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


Before The Bell - The stock market fell across a broad front yesterday, although some late buying helped to pare the day's worst losses. Still, when the final bell had sounded down on Wall Street, the market had fallen rather sharply, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sinking by 72 points and the NASDAQ declining by 15 points. Moreover, losing stocks held nearly a two-to-one edge over winning issues on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ, attesting to the aggregate weakness in the latest session.

However, even with these losses, the Dow remains above 13,100; the Standard and Poor's 500 Index is still just over 1,400; and the tech-heavy NASDAQ stands over the 3,100 level. The bull may not have been roaring over the past two sessions, but the bear is hardly in a resurgence, in our view.

Meanwhile, the latest market setback seems to have been occasioned by renewed concerns about the global economic cycle. Such worries prompted some serious retreats among the more economically sensitive issues yesterday, with Alcoa (AAFree Alcoa Stock Report), U.S. Steel (X), and Caterpillar (CATFree Caterpillar Stock Report) among the featured decliners. More domestically focused technology stocks did better, on the whole, which would seem to explain the relative outperformance by the NASDAQ in the most recent session.

The latest economic concerns, uncharacteristically, came from these shores, as the Commerce Department issued a report on durable goods orders yesterday morning before the market opened, showing that demand for such longlived consumer goods as washing machines and automobiles, rose by 2.2% in February. Now, while that was a notable turnaround from January's steep 3.6% pullback, the latest metric still fell short of the 2.7% gain widely forecast. We sense, though, that this was an overreaction. First, this was a sharp reversal from January, and second, this is a notoriously volatile series and, therefore, one that investors should not apportion too much weight to.

Still, these U.S. economic concerns, albeit possibly premature, in our view, have taken a modest toll on the overseas markets today, as the key indexes in both Asia and Europe are generally lower in the current session. Meantime, in addition to the U.S. concerns, there are also worries about the pace of growth in China, the world's second largest economy. China is a huge importer of raw materials, so any slowdown there could have far-reaching effects. That situation clearly will have to be watched. Along with slowing growth in China and questions about the ultimate strength of our economic expansion, there is the all-but-certain recession in Europe to rattle investors.

Now, just moments ago, the government over here released revised fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth figures showing that the pace of business activity had held steady in the final revision at 3.0%. Nevertheless, that was less than the consensus view of a gain of 3.2%. At the same time, the Labor Department reported that jobless claims fell by 5,000 in the latest seven-day period; an increase of 2,000 had been the forecast. However, that number warrants some explanation, as the prior week's survey result was revised up to 364,000 from an initial estimate of 348,000. So, the 359,000 posted this week was actually higher than the claims level that had been expected by the consensus.  Even so, this was another step in the right direction, as claims remain well below the 400,000 mark, which is considered necessary for serious job creation in this country.

Overall, we sense that yesterday's market reaction here was probably an overreaction, although there seems to be little question that stocks are overbought at this time. That said, the equity futures are pointing to further losses at the open this morning, as the S&P futures are off by five points and the NASDAQ futures are lower by almost nine points. – Harvey S. Katz

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