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After The Close - Wall Street hung in there today, despite sharp stock market selloffs in Europe and Asia. Fears about the economic slowdown in China are causing investors to reassess the situation, as leading companies, such as FedEx (FDX) and Caterpillar (CAT - Free Caterpillar Stock Report) have warned that business from emerging nations--China being foremost among them--is coming in less than anticipated. In fact, some observers have indicated that they believe China’s GDP target of 7.5% will come in a full percentage point lower.  

Meantime, the relative calm that prevailed for a time in Europe has been splintered by renewed agitation in Greece and Spain. Riot police fired rubber bullets into a crowd in Madrid and, in Athens, a general strike of hundreds of thousands of workers took place, protesting proposed budget cuts.

Offsetting the unsettling events in Europe somewhat, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s voiced his commitment to the region’s monetary union. Further word that the housing sector recovery in the United States is making progress also buoyed traders’ spirits.   

At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 44 points and the NASDAQ was down 24 points. The markets showed broad weakness, with declining stocks outpacing winners by about three to two on the New York Stock Exchange.

A drop in oil prices below the $90-a-barrel mark reflected the concern about global growth. Declines in the share prices of oil producer Hess (HES) and services provider Baker Hughes (BHI) indicated the softness in the energy sector, which was among the market’s poorest performing sectors on the day.

The tech sector was also among the groups lagging, causing the NASDAQ to decline on a greater percentage basis than the Dow.

Not surprisingly, the defensive utilities sector fared the best this trading session. Shares of Con Edison (ED) and Southern Co. (SO) were up nicely on the day.

As for tomorrow, some important economic data, in the form of a report on durable-goods orders for August and the final revision for the nation’s second-quarter GDP, will become available. Orders for durable goods are thought to have fallen sizably from July, but the prior GDP estimate of 1.7% is not expected to be revised materially.

There will also be earnings news for investors to digest on Thursday, including reports from Discover Financial (DFS), spicemaker McCormick (MCO), and footwear giant Nike (NKE). Subscribers can tune in for an update before the opening bell tomorrow.       

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

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12:30 PM ET - U.S. stock markets continued to trend lower on Wednesday, extending the prior day’s losses. As we passed midday in New York, the NASDAQ composite was leading the charge lower with a decline of about .8%, with a notable drag from the tech giants Apple (AAPL, down 1.3%) and Oracle (ORCL, down 1.6%). The other indexes were faring marginally better, with the S&P 500 down by about .4% while the Dow Jones Industrials had clawed its way back to just below the breakeven mark. Overall, declining issues outnumbered advancing stocks by a two-to-one margin on the NYSE Big Board. As investor’s appetite for risk has waned again, utilities are understandably the only sector on the positive side so far today, with stocks in the group averaging a gain of about half a percentage point.

Things are considerably more disheartening overseas, as European markets approach the close of their trading day. All the major markets opened lower and maintained steady declines throughout their sessions. France’s CAC 40 was down about 2.8% at Noon New York time, while Germany’s DAX was weathering a loss of around 2.0%. London’s FTSE index was holding up slightly better, with a decline of about 1.6%.

On the economic front, investors are digesting generally favorable new data on the U.S. housing market. The U.S. Commerce Department reported that August sales of new single-family homes came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000 units. Although this marked a 0.3% sequential decline from July’s upwardly revised pace of 374,000 units, August’s figures were up 27.7% compared to last year. Also of note, the median sales price of a new home, at $256,000, was up 11.2% sequentially and 17% year over year, marking the highest level since March of 2007. These numbers, along with the recent uptick in sales of existing homes and last month’s jump in the homebuilder sentiment index, provide further confirmation that the long-ailing housing market may finally be on the mend. Still, we caution that it will likely take a number of years before that industry returns to anywhere near its boom period peaks. - Mario Ferro 

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

Stocks to Watch from The Survey Earnings-related news continues to trickle out. After the market closed yesterday, Jabil Circuit (JBL), a supplier of turnkey manufacturing services for circuit board assemblies and systems, reported August-period results and November-quarter guidance that fell short of investors’ expectations. The stock is trading notably lower in the premarket. On the bright side, shares of Copart (CPRT) are indicating a higher opening this morning, after the company, which provides vehicle suppliers (primarily insurance companies) with services to sell salvage vehicles through auctions, reported solid July-period results. – 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 the tale of two cities on Wall Street yesterday. For much of the first half, stocks were modestly higher following the release of two good reports on the economy. However, as the day progressed profit takers returned to the market and selling intensified in the final few hours. When all was said and done, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, the S&P 500 Index, and the small-cap Russell were off 0.8%, 1.4%, 1.1%, and 1.5%. Overall, decliners outpaced advancers by nearly three-to-one on both the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ, a sharp reversal from earlier in the session.

The outsized losses on both the tech-heavy NASDAQ and the small-cap Russell, along with a four-basis-point drop in the yield on 10-year Treasury note, was a clear sign that a bit of anxiety set in among investors. Some disquieting data from Europe (both Spain’s and Italy’s government bonds fell as demand declined when debt was auctioned yesterday), along with a pessimistic outlook from bellwether company Caterpillar and comments by Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser (more below), unnerved investors.

From a sector perspective, all of the 10 groups finished in the red. The biggest laggards were those most closely tied to the fortunes of the global economy. The industrial stocks, which were pressured throughout the session by the aforementioned disquieting report from Caterpillar, were joined deep in negative territory by the basic materials group by the closing bell. The selloff in the energy sector was not as intense as the likely drop due to global economic concerns was offset somewhat by heightened tensions over new sanctions and reports of Iran firing test missiles. Crude oil prices fell about 0.9% on the New York Mercantile exchange yesterday.

With regards to the economy, positive reports on both consumer confidence and housing prices yesterday morning were more than offset by remarks from Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser that the latest Quantitative Easing (bond-buying) program will not cure weakness in the labor market and that the latest round of stimulus will be ineffective. Those remarks, along with concerns about the euro-zone’s ability to tackle the sovereign-debt problems shook investors yesterday afternoon. At 10:00 A.M. (EDT), we will get another report on the housing market, with the release of new home sales data for the month of August—the expectation is for solid growth in the metric.

Meantime, the late-day bearish sentiment in our equity market yesterday has spilled over into the international stock markets today. With growing concerns about the health of the global economy, the Asia’s major indexes finished lower overnight, punctuated by a 2% decline in Japan’s Nikkei 225. And, thus far this morning, the major European bourses are notably weaker, with worries about the sovereign-debt crisis in the euro zone on investors’ minds. In financially struggling Greece, thousands of Greeks marched through Athens in the first general strike since the nation's coalition government gained power in June. The protest is against the government’s package of €11.5 billion ($14.87 billion) in spending cuts.

Thus, with less than an hour to go before the start of trading on these shores, U.S. equity futures are pointing to a lower opening for our equity market. As we opined here in recent weeks, the overextended equity market (the S&P 500 Volatility Index is well below 20—a level that typically suggests buying has overheated) is susceptible to a selloff if news were to disappoint. Apparently, the comments from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve President yesterday and the escalating concerns about the global economy have unnerved investors and prompted the recent rash of selling. Stay tuned. – William G. Ferguson 

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