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After The Close - The U.S. equity indexes got off to a slow start during the first day of the new trading week, but the buyers quickly returned after the weak beginning and the bulls had their way once again for much of the session. Our sense is that investors are still looking for opportunities to put more money into equities—especially with interest rates hovering near record lows—and they are using any intra-day pullbacks, however small they be, to do so. Fairly supportive economic data of late are also helping to keep investors interested in equities. By the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index were all modestly higher. Overall, advancing issues led decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, while the latter held a slight advantage on the NASDAQ.

It was once again a record-setting day for Wall Street. As noted, the Dow 30 finished higher for the fifth consecutive session, and at another all-time high. It was also a banner day for the broader S&P 500 Index, which at one point during the session hit its highest mark since October of 2007, which was shortly before the world financial markets tumbled. The continued strength of the broader S&P 500 Index speaks volumes to the scope of the recent equity market rally. In that vein, today’s further advance was pretty encompassing, with all of the sectors, save for the telecom stocks, finishing in positive territory. Mild leadership came from the financial, technology, and healthcare stocks.

Meanwhile, it was a light day on both the economic and earnings fronts today—and trading volumes showed that investors did not have a lot to get excited about. With regard to earnings, shares of Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) traded sharply lower after the retailing company reported weaker-than-expected revenue and earnings figures. After today’s market close, we were scheduled to receive quarterly results from retailers Casey’s General Stores (CASY), Diamond Foods (DMND), and Urban Outfitters (URBN).

Meantime, there was some non-earnings news from Corporate America today. Specifically, shares of BlackBerry (BBRY) moved higher after U.S. telecom carriers announced that they would soon begin selling the company's long-delayed Z10 device. Also in the technology area, struggling computer company Dell (DELL) agreed to give Carl Icahn a closer look at its books less than a week after the activist investor joined the growing opposition to founder Michael Dell's plan to take the world's third-largest personal computer maker private. Dell shares finished the session above the offer price of $13.65, suggesting that investors fell that a higher bid for the struggling company could be forthcoming.

Elsewhere, the news from overseas was far from encouraging. On the Continent, France’s CAC-40 Index finished nominally lower after the government reported that industrial production declined 1.2% for Europe’s second-largest economy. The expectation was for an increase of 0.1%. We also learned that Portugal's GDP fell 3.2% in 2012. Meanwhile, consumer prices jumped more than expected in China and the world’s second-largest economy noted that industrial production was weaker than expected in February and that retail sales also fell shy of forecasts last month. China’s main equity indexes were relatively unchanged in the latest session, however.   - 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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12:30PM EDT - The stock market opened lower this morning, but is now firming up, at least partially. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 30 points (0.2%); the S&P 500 Index is ahead about two points (0.1%); and the NASDAQ is attempting to make its way into positive territory. Market breadth indicates a mixed tone to the session, as advancing stocks are just about even with decliners on the NYSE.  An uneven market can also be seen by looking at the various market sectors. There is some strength in the consumer cyclical, capital goods, and transportation stocks. The financials are also doing well today. Notably, this group, as measured by the Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF), has widely outperformed the broader stock market over the past six months. Elsewhere, there are some declines in the energy and technology issues. Weakness in energy shares may have to do with lower oil prices today. Crude oil is off almost 1% to $91.21 a barrel.

Technically, the market is advancing, as the Dow is holding near record high ground, and S&P 500 Index is hovering at the 1,550 level.  The market may appear overbought, as the VIX, down to just over 12, is approaching its 52-week low. However, it is important to note that this widely-watched sentiment measure has been stuck at low levels for the past few months, as the stock market has continued to move higher. 
There were no major economic releases put out today. Tomorrow will also be a light day for news. However, on Wednesday, we get a look at retail sales for February, a report on import and export prices, as well as business inventories. For those interested in commodities, we also will get a look at crude oil inventory levels.

There are a few corporate reports that investors are likely watching. Specifically, Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS) is seeing its stock slip, after the retailer put out weaker-than-anticipated fourth-quarter results, and issued a disappointing outlook. Renren (RENN) stock is up slightly, after the China-based social networking company posted weak bottom-line results, but a large jump in the top line.

Stocks making big moves up include: BlackBerry (BBRY), BroadVision (BVSN), and Zynga (ZNGA). Issues headed lower today include:  Affymax (AFFX), Valero (VLO), and Tupperware (TUP).  - 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 Earnings news is light this morning, although investors are going over January-period results from sporting goods retailer Dick’s (DKS). That stock is trading notably lower in the premarket, due in large part to the company’s lackluster outlook. The earnings calendar heats up later today, as retailers Urban Outfitters (URBN) and Casey’s General Stores (CASY) are scheduled to release quarterly results, along with nut and snack company Diamond Foods (DMND). Elsewhere, Dell (DELL) stock is up slightly ahead of the bell. Activist investor Carl Icahn has signed a confidentiality agreement with the computer maker that will allow him to look at the company’s books. Dell is in the process to selling itself to an investor consortium led by founder Michael Dell, a deal that Mr. Icahn has criticized, saying that it shortchanges shareholders. – 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 bull market heated up big time last week, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average celebrated the four-year anniversary of the climax of one of its worst bear markets in history by rallying to four straight record closes, as it gained ground each and every trading day last week, climaxing in the quartet of record closes.

In all, by the end of that five-day stretch, that 30-stock composite, which gained 68 points on Friday, was up to 14,397. That march to new high ground easily eclipsed the erstwhile five-year peak of 14,164. The Dow, in fact, is now up nearly 10% on the year so far, modestly exceeding the respective 8.8% and 7.4% increases on the Standard and Poor's 500 Index and the tech-heavy NASDAQ. It has certainly been a long and spirited run, with the market overcoming some serious obstacles along the way, such as the eroding economic fortunes in Europe and some lackluster business fortunes at home.

What has been primarily helping the bull to continue on its merry way has been the unwavering support of the Federal Reserve. The central bank's easy money policies, now in place for the better part of a half decade, have helped to drive interest rates down to record low levels on both the long and the short end of the yield curve. Of late, stocks also have been buoyed by better economic metrics, the most recent example of which was Friday's report of the much better-than-expected rise in non-farm payrolls during February. Specifically, the government had been expected to report that the nation had added 155,000 jobs last month. Instead, it indicated that 236,000 positions had been added. What's more, in a separate survey the same Labor Department said that the jobless rate had ticked down from 7.9% in January to 7.7% last month. The upbeat labor news followed similarly positive surveys on consumer confidence, manufacturing, and non-manufacturing activity issued recently.

Now, a new week dawns and Washington will be issuing data on retail sales this Wednesday. For this key survey, the expectations are that spending rose by 0.6% in February, following a near standstill in January. Then, on Thursday, we will get a look at data on initial jobless claims and the Producer Price Index. The PPI, boosted by higher energy prices last month, is expected to have risen by 0.7%--a large number. The week then concludes with reports on Friday on the Consumer Price Index, where a hefty gain of 0.6% is the forecast, and on industrial production and capacity utilization. Increases are forecast for both of these surveys.

As for the week ahead, the early trends are suggesting a lower start to the trading week, with the bourses in Europe, including the FTSE 100 in London, the CAC-40 in France, and the DAX in Frankfurt all showing little change to moderate losses. The setbacks in Italy's MIB (off 1.0%) and in Spain's IBEX (down 1.5%) are more substantial.

Finally, our futures are moving modestly lower at this hour, further pointing to a weaker start on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 Index futures off by more than two points and the NASDAQ futures in the red by some six points. – Harvey S. Katz

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