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After The Close - If Wall Street was looking for a reason to sell today, it got one with the report of notably weaker-than-expected consumer sentiment for the first part of March. Otherwise, the day’s economic data were largely supportive, with industrial production rising more than anticipated and underlying inflation relatively tame.

But the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s 10-day winning streak did finally come to an end. At the close, the Dow was off 25 points and the NASDAQ was down 10 points. Market breadth was moderately to the downside.

The day’s selling was hardly a rout, though. It was more like the bulls were exhausted after an exhilarating run. In fact, there were still many more stocks hitting fresh 52-week highs than lows. 

Among sectors, utilities stocks were the day’s big winners, sparked by a deal between OGE Energy (OGE) and CenterPoint Energy (CNP) to merge their midstream businesses, which are largely made up of pipelines. Pipelines are a major growth industry these days with all of the natural gas and oil that has been unearthed in recent years through modern drilling techniques. Although the merged unit would be privately owned at first, it would still enjoy certain tax advantages. A possible IPO later on could generate more cash for the utilities.

Banks were also in the spotlight, with the Federal Reserve releasing its latest round of stress tests after the closing bell last night. The results were a thumbs-up for Bank of America (BAC - Free Bank of America Stock Report) and Wells Fargo (WFC), whose stocks benefited in today’s session. Companies seen in a harsher light included JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Free JPMorgan Chase Stock Report) and BB&T Corp. (BBT), whose shares fell as a result. But despite the bad news for Morgan and BB&T, their less-than-completely satisfactory grades will likely only prove a temporary setback.

Early next week, the economic agenda is light, with housing data due on out on Monday and Tuesday expected to show a continuation of that critical sector’s recovery. Assuming that is the case, and the international news is relatively benign, the bulls could be looking to get on another roll.   - Robert Mitkowski
        
At the time of this writing, the author did not have any positions in the companies mentioned.  

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12:30 PM EDT - The U.S. stock market opened lower today, but is now attempting to pare its losses. Some of the initial weakness was likely due to a dose of mixed economic news. Specifically, the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Survey provided a preliminary reading of 71.8 for the month of Match. This result was lower than analyst expectations and also short of the 77.6 figure posted last month.  There were a few more encouraging reports released today, however. The Empire Manufacturing Survey came in at 9.2 for the month of March. Although lower than last month’s showing, this was far better than had been anticipated. Also, industrial production rose 0.7% in February, which was ahead of expectations, and suggests that the economy is still improving.  On the inflation front, consumer prices, as measured by the CPI, moved notably higher in February. Nonetheless, the core CPI was up just 0.2%.

As we pass the noon hour in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off 30 points (-0.2%); the S&P 500 is down two points (-0.1%); and the NASDAQ is lower by six points (-0.2%). Market breadth is somewhat unfavorable, as declining issues are outweighing advancers by a narrow margin on the NYSE. The various market sectors also indicate a mixed session. There is strength in the basic materials (likely because of the solid industrial production data), capital goods, and utility names, while the services and some of the consumer stocks are weak.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index has managed to move up for a number of consecutive sessions. However, trading volumes have been weak lately, which is cause for some concern. The VIX is modestly higher today, but the low reading on this Index of 11.39 is worrisome, as excessive bullishness could be read as a contrarian indicator, suggesting “overbought” conditions.

There also are a few corporate news items worthy of note today. Ulta Salon (ULTA) stock is off sharply after that company posted decent quarterly results, but issued disappointing guidance.  Retail apparel firm Aeropostale (ARO) stock is trading lower, too, after that company took a cautious view of the first quarter. Several big banks are in the news today, as well. Bank of America (BAC Free BofA Stock Report) has announced a share repurchase program and that stock is up. Also, JPMorgan (JPM Free JPMorgan Stock Report) announced a share repurchase program, but the stock is off, possibly on concerns about its London trading activities and the latest Federal Reserve stress test results.   - 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 Banks are in the spotlight today. After issuing a scathing report on JPMorgan Chase’s (JPMFree JPMorgan Chase Stock Report) handling of the “London Whale” trading debacle, a senate subcommittee will hold a hearing on the matter this morning. Also, the Federal Reserve has issued approvals and denials for a number of banks’ capital plans. Bank of America (BACFree Bank of America Stock Report) was one of the winners, but BB&T (BBT) had its plan rejected. JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs (GS) did not have their proposals denied, but were asked to resubmit new plans for further review in six months. BAC stock is up moderately in the premarket, while JPM, GS, and BBT are all indicating modestly lower openings this morning.

Elsewhere, shares of teen apparel and accessories retailer Aeropostale (ARO), doughnut shop operator Krispy Kreme (KKD), and cosmetics, fragrance, haircare, and skincare products seller Ulta Salon (ULTA) are all trading notably lower on earnings news, with ULTA stock showing the most weakness. – 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 - Another day, another record for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In all, after yesterday's 84-point gain in that index of 30 mostly blue chip companies, the Dow has now hit an all-time high for eight sessions in a row. And, encouragingly, in the latest trading day, unlike its two immediate predecessors, that index did not just put in a token increase to keep the string going. But rather, the uptick was formidable, and was joined by the small-cap, mid-cap, and larger-cap indexes that dot the Wall Street landscape.

In all, yesterday's Dow increase was the 10th in a row for that index, the first time that such a string had been woven together in more that 16 years. Moreover, there has been no profit taking of note since this latest leg of the multiyear rally began at the start of this year. In all, the Dow is now ahead by 11.0% for the two plus months, while gains of 9.6% and 7.9%, respectively, have been recorded for the Standard and Poor's 500 Index and the NASDAQ. It has been a breath-taking performance in every respect.

What is continuing to propel stocks higher, in our opinion, is a series of positive economic metrics, including reports on consumer confidence, employment, manufacturing, non-manufacturing, and retail spending. And in the latest session, the Labor Department chimed in with data showing that initial jobless claims had eased to 332,000 in the latest week, the third consecutive decline in that weekly series. Further, the companion data on continuing claims and average weekly jobless claims also fell, suggesting in rather stark terms, that the labor market is on the mend.

That good news offset some rather worrisome inflation data, as producer prices jumped by 0.7% in February. But that data, which were skewed by a surge in energy costs, was partially alleviated by news that the core PPI reading was up by just 0.2% last month. The so-called core PPI, which backs out the volatile food and energy components, is what is most closely watched by the Federal Reserve. The subdued nature of the core inflation reading at the wholesale level suggests that the Fed's easy monetary policies are safe for now.

Meanwhile, just moments ago, the Labor Department issued the companion inflation report on consumer prices. Here, as well, the headline inflation number jumped by 0.7% in February, a tad more that generally forecast. However, once more there was relief on the core side, as that metric was up just modestly, gaining 0.2% last month, as expected.

And, minutes from now, the Commerce Department will issue its monthly data on industrial production and factory usage. We believe those reports will be even more critical. Here, the expectation is that both series will have shown nice gains in February, as the industrial sector is forecast to have joined the consumer markets in pressing forward.

Finally, the markets seem bent on pressing higher again this morning, as the Dow could well set a ninth straight closing high, while the Standard and Poor's 500 Index, which closed at 1,563 yesterday, is now a mere two points from its all-time peak of 1,565 set back in 2007. The lone discordant note, meantime, is being sounded by the Federal Reserve, which yesterday dealt a blow to both Goldman Sachs (GS) and JPMorgan Chase (JPMFree JPMorgan Stock Report), citing weaknesses in their so-called stress tests. Both stocks are indicated to open modestly to the downside, when trading commences 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.