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After the Close - The U.S. stock market spent most of today’s session looking for direction. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 50 points (-0.4%); the S&P 500 Index had slipped four points (-0.3%); and the tech-heavy NASDAQ, which spent most of the session in positive territory, managed to close down slightly. Notably, many of the smaller names, as indicated by the Russell 2000, made some progress, outperforming the larger averages, and this may suggest that traders were doing some bargain hunting in the overlooked names. Market breadth was neutral, as advancing stocks were about even with decliners on the NYSE. Most of the market sectors moved lower, with weakness in the consumer non-cyclical names and the energy stocks.  However, the utilities stocks bucked the downtrend, as investors may have been looking for defensive issues.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index closed lower for the second day in a row, closing just below the 1,500 mark. As this level corresponds with a large round number, it might hold some “psychological” importance for traders.

There were a few economic reports released this morning. Although yesterday’s Automatic Data Processing (ADP) employment figures looked encouraging, the reports were not as constructive today. Specifically, initial jobless claims for the week ended January 26th, rose to 368,000, which was a bit more than had been widely expected. Notably, this figure was quite a bit higher than the prior week’s reading, too. In addition, the continuing jobless claims made just no real progress. The employment situation is weighing heavily on traders, especially as the January nonfarm payroll release is set to be issued tomorrow morning. Other than that there were a few minor releases. Personal income rose 2.6% in December, which was much better than anticipated, reflecting unusual end-of-year events. However, personal spending levels for the month were quite tame. Elsewhere, the Chicago PMI for January came in at 55.6, indicating things may be getting better in that region.

The fourth-quarter earnings season is in full swing. Among the leading issues, technology giant Qualcomm (QCOM) put out a strong report, sending that stock higher on the news. Facebook (FB) stock slipped, even though the social networking company’s figure exceeded Wall Street’s forecasts. In basic materials, Dow Chemical (DOW) saw its stock fall, as quarterly profits were disappointing.  - 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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12:30 PM EST - Stocks are modestly lower on the final day of January, amidst a heavy dose of corporate earnings news and ahead of tomorrow’s closely watched government employment report.

Just past the noon hour on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 34 points and the NASDAQ is off slightly. The broader market’s bias is to the downside, too, with decliners outpacing gainers by a narrow margin on the New York Stock Exchange.

As for this morning’s economic news, in one sense it appears to be another day of the glass being half full for investors. A rise in initial unemployment claims of 38,000, to 368,000 was shrugged off as normal variation in a statistic that has been trending down. The claims figure is still supportive of the moderate job growth expected to materialize in tomorrow’s nonfarm payrolls report.

Other business news, including a jump in personal income for December, owing to many dividend payments being accelerated in the fourth quarter, and a rise in the January Chicago purchasing managers index, generally proved supportive.

In terms of earnings, there are a few big winners today. Shares of JDS Uniphase (JDSU) climbed sharply after the telecom networking equipment maker beat analysts’ profit expectations.

Shares of Citrix Systems (CTXS) are also sharply higher, as the company reported business related to cloud data centers was increasing faster than anticipated.

Elsewhere, the stock of infant formula maker Mead Johnson Nutrition (MJN) is performing well after the company reported strong earnings.

Other gainers include the shares of appliance manufacturer Whirlpool (WHR) and donut maker Dunkin Brands (DNKN).

On the downside, several stocks are off notably on a percentage basis. Those include shares of Dow Chemical (DOW), ConocoPhillips (COP), Fusion-io (FIO), Harman International (HAR), Invacare (IVC), and Time Warner Cable (TWC).

Another stock having a tough time of it is Constellation Brands (STZ). The Justice Department has sued to block Anheuser-Busch InBev’s (BUD) merger with Groupo Modelo. That move gums up the works for Constellation’s planned purchase of Modelo’s 50% share of Crown Imports. Constellation Brands already owns the other 50% of Crown Imports. Wall Street almost always frowns on any type of government intervention of this nature.

Overall, after a nice rally in the month of January, traders seem to be doing some light profit-taking as a result of mixed earnings news, and prior to tomorrow’s big employment report. -Robert Mitkowski

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

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Stocks to Watch from The Survey - A relatively light day for earnings announcements saw shares of Facebook (FB), the operator of the popular social networking Website, trade notably lower after the company reported somewhat disappointing December-period results. Meantime, there is word that drugmaker Endo Health Solutions (ENDP) is in talks to sell the enterprise, with industry peers Warner Chilcott PLC (WCRX) and Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) emerging as the most likely suitors. Finally, shares of WMS Industries (WMS), a maker of gaming machines, soared after the company agreed to be acquired by rival Scientific Games (SGMS) for $1.5 billion. - Sharif Abdou

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 - Wall Street put in a rare down session of some note yesterday, with the overall market performing worse than the leading averages. To wit, while the Dow Jones Industrial fell a moderate 44 points, the NASDAQ lost 11 points, and the Standard and Poor's 500 Index gave back six points, with each index losing less than 0.4% on the day, the market, however, saw twice as many declining issues as gaining stocks on the Big Board and an even worse ratio on the NASDAQ, attesting to the weak overall underpinnings of the market in the latest session.

The primary catalysts for yesterday's progressively weaker stock market over the course of the session were dispiriting GDP metrics issued before stocks opened for trading, a mixed review of the economy by the Federal Reserve, which concluded its two-day FOMC meeting, and weak data on Spain's economy.

Specifically, the Commerce Department reported that the nation's fourth-quarter gross domestic product inched lower by 0.1%, which was a decidedly weaker performance than the gain of 1.0% that had been the consensus forecast. In truth, the performance by the economy last quarter was not as dire as the numbers would suggest, as much of the shortfall was the result of one-time sharp reductions in defense spending and an unsustainable drawdown in inventory investment. Those two factors had been net positives in the third quarter, when GDP had grown by 3.1%, the year's best quarterly showing. Then, there was the Fed, which noted that there were still pockets of weakness in the economy, although the expansion seemed to be progressing in an orderly fashion, overall. The poor showing by our economy last quarter and the weaker consumer confidence reading issued the day before, meanwhile, offer up some reason for caution in the current period, although it is hard to envision a scenario in which at least a modest amount of growth will not return.

As to earnings, they continue to come in at or better than expected for the most part, with yesterday's solid showing by Amazon.com (AMZN), which posted a strong gain in operating income and a widening of margins, being front and center. That stock jumped in response, gaining more than $12 a share for the session. Conversely, after the close of trading, Facebook (FB) reported results that clearly dampened sentiment for the stock, which is falling in the pre-market this morning.

As to the economy, the Labor Department just reported that first-time jobless claims rose more than expected in the latest week, climbing to 368,000. That uptick followed back-to-back weeks in which such filings had hit five-year lows. On a brighter note, the government also reported that personal income soared in December, climbing by 2.6% in just that one month, three times the forecast gain. It was the best one-month showing in that category since December 2004. However, such one-time events as special year-end dividends clearly influenced this metric, which may well now work against income in the current month, as a number of companies paid out quarterly disbursements late last year in order for shareholders to be taxed at a lower rate.

As to the markets, after yesterday's lower session, the expectations are that stocks will open modestly to the downside this morning when traders get down to business in about a half hour from now.   - Harvey S. Katz

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