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After the Close - Wall Street continued its winning ways today. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 33 points and the NASDAQ added 10 points. Market breadth on the New York Stock Exchange was only moderately positive, though.

Keeping enthusiasm in check to a degree was a batch of mixed economic news, which on the upside included lower-than-projected weekly unemployment filings. However, that was tempered by a greater-than-expected international trade deficit for January  and fourth-quarter 2012 data on the nation’s productivity that was revised lower. Too, the stock market has had such a nice run of late, with the Dow climbing to an all-time high this week, that a holding pattern may have set in ahead of Friday’s big government report on February payrolls.

Elsewhere in the economy, mortgage giant Freddie Mac noted that rates for home loans basically held steady in the past week, and remained highly supportive of the housing recovery. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage rose to 3.52% from 3.51%, but that is still an exceptionally attractive rate for anyone looking to buy a house.  

In corporate news, shares of Navistar International (NAV) rose sharply when the heavy truck and equipment maker reported a lower-than-anticipated loss for its January fiscal quarter and indicated that its cash balance topped estimates.

Also on the upside, Time Warner (TWX) stock advanced when the media and entertainment company said it would be separating its Time, Inc. division into a stand-alone unit. However, shares of Meredith Corp. (MDP) fell on the news, since the thinking had been that the publisher might very well be combining forces with Time’s big-name magazines.

Another stock losing altitude was that of PetSmart (PETM), when the pet food supplier toned down its outlook. Even so, an industry survey suggested most retailers enjoyed a pickup in demand late last month, pointing to the possibility of improved sales in the spring. 

As noted, tomorrow brings the government’s much-awaited monthly employment report, where expectations are likely rising. Investors had been looking for about 155,000 jobs to have been added in February, about the average monthly gain over the past year. But today’s larger-than-expected drop in new unemployment claims and yesterday’s healthy report from Automatic Data Processing (ADP) that 198,000 private sector jobs were added in February may have investors looking for bigger things. Meantime, the unemployment rate is thought to have edged down to 7.8%, from 7.9%. The bulls are clearly looking for fresh reinforcement to support their case. - Robert Mitkowski

At the time of this writing, the author did not have positions in any of the stocks mentioned.      

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12:40 PM EST - The stock market is moving higher today, building on several day of gains. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 40 points (0.3%); the S&P 500 Index is ahead by three points (0.2%); and the technology-heavy NASDAQ is tacking on six points (0.2%). However, market breadth suggests a somewhat mixed session, as advancers are ahead of decliners by only a small margin on the NYSE. Most of the market sectors are heading higher, with leadership in the energy, capital goods, and technology stocks. But, there is some weakness in the transportation and consumer cyclical names.

Technically, the market continues to drift higher. Yet, some traders are likely becoming concerned that the market may be getting overbought. The VIX has been stuck at very low levels for some time. Also, the price-to-earnings multiple of the broader market has moved higher, and some may wonder if this is warranted by the current earnings outlook. Furthermore, there is concern that the rise in equities is largely being fueled by the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy, which is artificially inflating values. While these are opinions worth noting, it is equally hard to argue with the market, and for now, the move seems to be higher.

The economic releases put out this morning were mixed. The Department of Labor reported that initial jobless claims for the week ended March 2nd, came in at 340,000, which was lower than the figure that analysts had expected, and also below the critical 350,000 level. No doubt, this information now has traders looking somewhat optimistically ahead to the February employment report due out tomorrow morning. Elsewhere, the nation’s trade balance is not improving much. The trade gap widened notably to $44.4 billion in the month of January. The latest month’s figure also was a bit less favorable than had been expected.

There are a few earnings reports worth mentioning. Specifically, Pet Smart (PETM) shares are headed lower, after that company issued a weaker-than-anticipated outlook. Things went a bit better for Semtech (SMTC). That stock is up sharply, after the semiconductor company posted solid quarterly figures and provided upbeat guidance. -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 Retailers are in the spotlight today, as a number of companies are reporting February comparable-store sales this morning. Warehouse club Costco (COST) and Victoria’s Secret parent Limited Brands (LTD) appear to be two early winners in that category. On the earnings front, shares of PetSmart (PETM) are indicating a sharply lower opening this morning, after the seller of pet food and supplies reported solid January-period results but issued disappointing guidance. Conversely, shares of grocer Kroger Co. (KR) and pork processor Smithfield Foods (SFD) are trading slightly higher in the premarket on earnings news, while the stock of telecommunications equipment company Ciena (CIEN) is surging ahead of the bell.

Elsewhere, shares of computer maker Dell Inc. (DELL) are up just slightly in the premarket. Company founder Michael Dell and his investment partners are reportedly facing growing resistance to their bid to take the company private. Some of Dell’s largest shareholders, such as Southeastern Asset Management, have argued that the $13.65-per-share offer price is too low.

Finally, shares of Time Warner Inc. (TWX) are up moderately ahead of the bell, after the media company announced plans to spin off its Time Inc. magazine group into a separate publicly traded company. Time Warner had been in talks with fellow publisher Meredith Corp. (MDP) about combining titles, but those talks apparently broke down. – 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 - The Dow Jones Industrial Average, fresh off of an all-time high on Tuesday, posted another record close yesterday, gaining 42 points to end the latest session just a hair below 14,300. It had taken this composite of 30 mostly blue chip companies more than five years to ascend its previous best close, and the bulls thus far seem unwilling to call it quits.

And the other averages are largely responding in kind, with the Standard and Poor's 500 Index gaining two points in the latest session, leaving that index of large-cap issues just over a percentage point off of its best level ever. The NASDAQ, which retreated slightly in the latest session, is still on the cusp of a multi-year peak, although it remains, at 3,222.36, some two thousand points off of its all-time high, set back in the ballyhoo days of 2000.

Helping the market surge forward in this continuing bull market remains supportive economic metrics, with the most recent upbeat news coming in the past week or so, with data showing strong gains in consumer confidence, manufacturing, and non-manufacturing activity. And yesterday, we saw a good employment report covering the private sector from payroll processor Automatic Data Processing (ADP), which reported that in the past month it had seen an increase of 198,000 new hires, a somewhat better number than many pundits had been forecasting. Also, later in the day, the Federal Reserve came out with its latest Beige Book summary of business activity across this country. There were no surprises in this report, which suggested that 10 of the 12 Federal Reserve Districts had seen either modest or moderate growth during February. The central bank will now use this report to help it fashion monetary policy at its next FOMC meeting.

Now, this morning, some key economic reports are out again. For example, in the last few minutes, the government reported that weekly jobless claims had ticked down to 340,000. That was lower than both the 347,000 reported the prior week and the consensus of 355,000.  On the other hand, the nation's trade gap. which had tumbled in December, picked back up in January, the latest month for which this internationally configured report can be calculated, jumping to $44.4 billion. All of this is just a prelude, however, to the biggest report of the month, which will be issued tomorrow morning, when the Labor Department reports on non-farm payrolls and the unemployment rate for February.

As to equities, they were generally on the rise yesterday, but the NASDAQ's relative weakness was at least partly attributable to further losses in the slumping shares of Apple Inc. (AAPL), which, at yesterday's close of $425.66 a share, is now down nearly 300 points from its all-time high. Similarly, Google (GOOG), which has been tracking strongly higher, having recently topped $840 a share, fell back yesterday on some overdue profit taking. Still, that pricey issue remains above $830 a share, and it's indicating a bit higher in the pre-market this morning.

As to the stock market, in general, we sense that a modestly higher opening is in store for traders and investors when the beat resumes in less than an 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.