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After the Close - It was another ho-hum day on Wall Street, as the major U.S. equity indexes lacked direction and traded in a narrow band around the neutral line for much of the session. Some mixed news on the U.S. economy (more below) and the lack of any major reports on the earnings front did not give investors much fodder with which to work with today. At the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was modestly lower, the broader S&P 500 Index was little changed and the NASDAQ had eked out a small four-point gain. However, some proportionately better buying was apparent in the small-cap Russell 2000 and the S&P Mid-Cap 400 Index. Overall, there was definitely a positive tone to trading, with advancers finishing ahead of decliners on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ.

As noted, the day’s biggest news came from the economy. At 10:00 A.M. (EDT), the Conference Board, a private research organization based in New York City, reported that its monthly consumer confidence survey fell to a reading of just 60.6 this month, down from a downwardly revised result of 65.4 in July, reflecting dampening hopes about the economy and job prospects. Initially, the July survey had been estimated at 65.9. Expectations had been for a flattish result of 66.0 this month. The weak consumer confidence report, though, was partially offset by a good reading on the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index. The survey showed that home prices rose in 18 of the 20 cities surveyed—its first year-on-year rise since June, 2010. While it should not come as a shock that most of the stocks of the large homebuilders, including Lennar (LEN), PulteGroup (PHM), and Toll Brothers (TOL), performed well today, a positive showing from the consumer cyclical sector was a bit of a surprise, especially in the wake of the aforementioned dour report on consumer confidence.

Overall, it was a mixed showing for the leading sectors, with no one group particularly standing out. It is worth noting that the stocks of both steel and coal companies were weaker in the latest session. Steel stocks were under pressure after a major brokerage house lowered its ratings for one of the major players in the industry. Shares AK Steel (AKS), ArcelorMittal (MT), U.S. Steel (X), and Steel Dynamics (STLD) were lower. Meanwhile, the selloff of the coal stocks did not appear to be news driven today.

Elsewhere, it was a difficult trading day in Europe, as Germany’s DAX fell 0.6% and France’s CAC-40 and Britain’s FTSE-100 were off 0.9% each. The selloff on the Continent was likely the product of a batch of lackluster economic reports—Spain’s GDP contracted 0.4% sequentially in the June quarter. Despite, the dour economic news, the euro strengthened a bit versus the dollar, likely due to better-than-expected debt auctions in Italy and Spain earlier today and bets that the European Central Bank would soon act to tackle the euro zone's debt crisis. We also learned today that ECB President Mario Draghi will not be attending the Jackson Hole, Wyoming meetings at the end of this week, which many believe Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke will use to advance plans for a third round of quantitative easing as a way to further enliven the business upturn. Speaking of the U.S. economy, we will receive the latest revision for second-quarter GDP tomorrow at 8:30 A.M. (EDT).  - William G. Ferguson 

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

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12:30 PM ET - The U.S. stock market has been searching for direction this morning, but is now moving moderately higher. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 11 points (0.1%); the broader S&P 500 Index is ahead one point (0.1%); and the NASDAQ, again showing leadership, is advancing eight points (0.3%). Market breadth suggests a mixed session, but advancing stocks are slightly outweighing decliners on the NYSE. The market sectors also show little real movement. However, there is some strength in the consumer non cyclical names and in the financial issues, while weakness can be found in the in utility and transportation stocks.

Technically, the S&P 500 is still consolidating at the 1,400 area, after struggling to move higher a few days ago. As already noted, trading volumes remain light, and that may suggest a lack of conviction on the part of traders.

The economic news was mixed today. The housing market looks like it is recovering in a more meaningful way. Specifically, the Case Schiller 20-City Home Price Index showed prices rising 0.5% in the month of June, which was better than the -0.7% reading logged in May, and also better than many analysts had expected. The Home Builders Index (XHB) was slightly lower, but has since started to rally. Notably, this index has nearly doubled in price in the past year, in anticipation of the recovery. Elsewhere, the consumer may not be convinced that the economy is getting better. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index provided a reading of 60.6 in the month of August. This was quite a bit lower than the downwardly revised 65.4 figure posted in July, and also short of expectations. Tomorrow will be a busy day, as we get another estimate for second-quarter GDP. The housing market is also back in the spotlight, as July pending homes sales are set to be released. Further, the Fed’s Beige Book summation for August is due out, and this will also be scrutinized.

There were a few corporate news items out today. Movado (MOV) shares are rising, on a good earnings report and a raised outlook. In apparel, PVH (PVH) is seeing its stock move up, after the company posted strong quarterly figures. Elsewhere, shares of Magellan Petroleum (MPET) are soaring on acquisition news.

Meanwhile, the markets overseas have done little to help trading in the U.S. In Asia, the markets were mixed overnight. In Europe, the markets were mostly negative on a batch of lackluster economic reports. Nonetheless, the euro is slightly higher again, now at about $1.26. On a related note, the ECB President has announced that he will not be speaking at the Jackson Hole, WY Fed meeting, which may also be cause for some speculation.   - 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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Stocks to Watch from The Survey There are still a few earnings reports trickling in, primarily from retailers, many of which have fiscal years that end in January. To wit, shares of footwear wholesaler and retailer Brown Shoe (BWS) and apparel company PVH Corp. (PVH) are trading nicely higher in the premarket on earnings news. Movado (MOV) stock is indicating an even stronger opening, after the watch and jewelry company released solid July-quarter results and issued an upbeat outlook. Shares of chicken processor and distributor Sanderson Farms (SAFM) and medical supply company Cyberonics (CYBX) are advancing in pre-market trading on earnings news, as well. – Matthew E. Spencer

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 - It was a dull, listless, and uneventful Monday on Wall Street yesterday, as the long hot summer drags on over its remaining few weeks. In all, after spending much of the morning slightly in the minus column, then reversing course around mid-session, the equity market gradually drifted lower over the final hours of the day, finally closing mostly in the red--albeit just narrowly. In short, this was another directionless day, in a trading pattern that has been eerily calm in the past few weeks, after a series of frantic up-and-down moves earlier in the summer.

By the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, led into the loss column by a 52-week low in the shares of Hewlett-Packard (HPQFree Hewlett-Packard Stock Report), as that blue chip continues to strive for a sustainable bottom in its long downtrend, and by some modest weakness in such basic industry issues as Alcoa (AAFree Alcoa Stock Report) and Caterpillar (CATFree Caterpillar Stock Report), had closed off by 33 points, at 13,124. In all, that 30-stock composite held in a narrow range between 13,176 and 13,115. The NASDAQ, boosted early in the session by a sharp jump in shares of Apple (AAPL), on a patent win against rival Samsung, retained just three points of its early gain, while the Standard and Poor's 500 Index closed off by less than a point, thereby further underscoring the inconclusive nature of the latest Wall Street session. With no news of note, Wall Street, it would seem, was playing the proverbial waiting game--as we edge closer to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's scheduled speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Friday.

In part, this waiting should lessen today, as the Conference Board will issue its monthly survey on consumer confidence some 30 minutes into the day's trading session. A flattish reading for August is the forecast. This report is scheduled to then be followed tomorrow morning before the market opens by revised second-quarter GDP data. Initially, that key metric had shown a diminution in growth for the period, coming in at a tepid rate of 1.5%. An upward revision, to 1.7%, is the consensus forecast. We also will be getting further information on the course and damage of Hurricane Isaac, as it wends its way along the Gulf Coast. Oil prices are already on the rise due to supply concerns, which might only worsen in the next 48 hours, or so. The business beat continues on Thursday when we will get weekly jobless claims and reports on personal income and consumer expenditures. Modest increases are expected in these latter two series. Finally, Friday will bring data on manufacturing activity in the greater Chicago area, factory orders, and the University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index.

Meanwhile, global stocks have stalled this morning, as skittish investors are seemingly reticent to take a stance ahead of Chairman Bernanke's Friday speech. There is considerable speculation that Mr. Bernanke will use that forum to advance plans for a third round of quantitative easing as a way to further enliven the business upturn, which has looked somewhat better in recent weeks, but is still not pressing forward with much energy. As for the markets overseas, most of the European bourses are edging lower at this hour. There are also concerns about a deepening slowdown in China, where last week a survey was issued showing that manufacturing activity had fallen to a nine-month low. And this morning comes word that Spain's recession is deepening, with GDP in that country showing a further contraction in the second quarter following a downwardly revised first-quarter reading.

As to our futures, they are off modestly with about a half hour to go before the start of the new trading day, presaging a narrowly weaker start in what figures to be another uneventful day as Wall Street awaits tomorrow's revised second-quarter GDP figures, the track of Hurricane Isaac, and Friday's speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. – Harvey S. Katz

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