After the Close - A seesaw week on Wall Street, which, for the most part, did not see the major indexes stray too far from the neutral line at any point, ended with a win for the bulls. At the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 Index, and the NASDAQ were up 91, 11, and 22 points, respectively, and in the process, erased most of the modest losses that had accumulated during the choppy prior four days of trading. For the week, the three aforementioned indexes were down 0.1%, 0.2%, and 0.1%, respectively.

Today’s buying was pretty encompassing, with nearly all of the top-10 sectors finishing in positive territory. In particular, leadership came from the consumer discretionary and consumer staples stocks. Those two sectors were aided by some news from Corporate America. Indeed, strong earnings results from retailers Nike (NKE) and Tiffany (TIF) gave a nice boost to the consumer cyclical group, while increases in the shares of Pepsico (PEP) and Mondelez International (MDLZ) helped the consumer noncyclical stocks, particularly the shares of the beverage companies and the food processors. The aforementioned interest in the beverage giant and the packaged foods behemoth (formerly part of the Kraft Foods family) picked up after reports surfaced today that billionaire activist investor Nelson Peltz has built positions in both companies. Conversely, one sector that did not perform well today was basic materials. Weakness in the steel, mining and metals, and precious metals stocks, which has been the case for the last month, was once again at the root of today’s setback there.

Also pushing the equity markets higher on these shores were some easing concerns, at least for the moment, about the financial struggles of Cyprus, the latest of the euro zone’s problems. Although the financial crisis, which involves agreeing on a plan to keep the nation from defaulting on its debt obligations, remains unresolved, investors took some comfort in reports, which suggested that Cypriot government officials have been able to find the means to raise about half of the total amount needed to keep from defaulting. The hope is that it is a starting point in a deal to avoid a default by the euro zone’s second-smallest economy. However, most of the major European bourses, including Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC-40, finished the session lower, as economic data from the euro zone were mixed. Specifically, France’s Business Survey remained unchanged against the expectation for a mild uptick; Germany's Ifo Business Climate Index slipped modestly; and Spain’s industrial new orders rose 0.4% year-over-year against expectations of a decline of 0.5%.

Meantime, it was a very quiet day for our economy. However, that will change next week after another light day on Monday. Of note, will be reports due on new home sales, durable goods orders, consumer confidence (Tuesday), and personal income and spending (Friday). Next Thursday will also bring the final revision for fourth-quarter 2012 GDP. However, the earnings news—with first-quarter earnings season still a little more than a fortnight away from commencing—will remain light during the holiday-shortened trading week. (The U.S. markets are closed next Friday in observance of Good Friday.) Still, we will receive earnings results from Walgreen Co. (WAG), The Children’s Place (PLCE), Accenture (ACN), GameStop (GME), Cascade (CASC), and SAIC (SAI) during the four-day trading week. -William G. Ferguson

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


12:35 PM EDT - The stock market opened higher this morning and has been able to build on its gains. As we pass the noon hour in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 71 points (0.5%); the S&P 500 Index is ahead by eight points (0.5%); and the tech-heavy NASDAQ is tacking on 14 points (0.5%).  Market breadth is favorable, with advancing stocks outnumbering decliners by about 2 to 1 on the NYSE. All of the market sectors are participating in today’s up move, with leadership in the healthcare sector, due to strength in the biotechnology area. The energy issues are doing well, too, helped by the oil equipment stocks. Notably, crude oil is up nearly 1% to $93.11 a barrel. However, there is some relative underperformance in the basic materials sector, due to weakness in the metals and miners.

Technically, the S&P 500 is recovering a bit today, after putting in a weak performance yesterday. It is good to see some demand for equities, but we will be watching to see if the bulls stay in control as today’s session comes to a close. The VIX is lower by about 3% to about 13.57 today suggesting investors may be feeling a bit better. Specifically, traders may be sensing that the problems in Cyprus can be managed, as discussions are under way. The markets on the Continent opened lower, but have since found their way into positive territory. The euro, which had been weak for a few sessions, is firming up against the U.S. dollar and is back at the $1.30 mark. Investors also seem less driven to buy precious metals, as gold is lower today.

There were no economic reports released this morning. But, investors got a few earnings releases to digest. Footwear giant Nike (NKE) posted strong quarterly profits and that stock is up over 10% on the news. Tiffany (TIF) shares are also headed higher, after the retail jeweler put out better-than-expected bottom-line results. In technology things were a bit less favorable. TIBCO Software (TIBX) is seeing its stock fall sharply, after that company put out a mixed release. Stocks moving higher today include: Micron (MU), Pepsi (PEP), and Under Armour (UA). In contrast, some issues losing ground include: Tech Data (TECD), Questcor (QCOR), and Lululemon (LULU).  - Adam Rosner

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 Investors are pouring over more earnings reports this morning, several of which were very solid. Indeed, athletic footwear and apparel company Nike (NKE) and jeweler Tiffany & Co. (TIF) both delivered better-than-expected results, causing their respective stocks to trade notably higher ahead of the bell. Shares of Micron Technology (MU) are also indicating a sharply higher opening this morning, after the semiconductor company released February-period results and an outlook that pleased investors. It was not all good news, however, and shares of TIBCO Software (TIBX), a provider of solutions software for businesses, are plunging in the premarket on earnings news. The stock of restaurant operator Darden (DRI) is also indicating a lower opening, though it is down just slightly in pre-market trading. – Matthew E. Spencer

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


Before The Bell - The bears, who had started to have things go their way from last Friday through Tuesday of this week, before giving up the reins on Wednesday, took charge of the situation once more yesterday, only this time with a somewhat greater degree of conviction than heretofore.

To be sure, even yesterday, the bears were largely half-hearted in their intent, as they took just 90 points off of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and 32 points from the NASDAQ. Neither loss was, in fact, headline grabbing given the magnitude of the advance thus far this year. Indeed, even after this latest setback, the Dow is still up 10.1% for the year to date, while the NASDAQ is better by a solid 6.7%.

As for this latest decline in the market, it was largely occasioned by some dour tidings out of Cyprus, which is on the cusp of default unless it can secure badly needed bailout funds from the European Union. The worry is that Cyprus, the euro zone's second smallest member, is quickly running out of time to avoid a collapse in its already floundering financial system. The latest news out of that part of the world is that an attempt to secure aid from Russia has broken down. On a somewhat brighter note, there has been a modicum of relief in the global financial markets this morning on news that Cyprus has agreed with Greece on a takeover of the latter nation's units of Cypriot banks. It should be noted that Greece, a far larger EU member than Cyprus, is in difficult financial straits itself.

But Europe and its myriad ills were not all that Wall Street had on its collective minds yesterday. There also were some concerns about weaker quarterly sales at software giant Oracle (ORCL). The unexpected drop in revenues at that tech stalwart had an effect on the performance of other technology stocks yesterday, which were already under pressure from some brokerage house downgrades.

Countering this bearishness, were some encouraging economic metrics on our shores. To wit, the National Association of Realtors yesterday morning issued data showing a slight further increase in sales of existing homes in February on a consecutive-month basis and a large jump in such volume from a year-to-year perspective. The housing market is clearly on the mend and such reports only reinforce that reality. Further, about 90 minutes before that report was released, the Labor Department announced that new jobless claims were about flat for the latest seven-day stretch, and remained near a five-year low. That news helped to mollify traders to a degree, as it suggested that the recent gains in the job market would likely be sustained.

Taking all of this in, yesterday's losses in the market could have been worse, and for a time yesterday afternoon, when the Dow had briefly fallen to a 130-point loss, it seemed as though that might be the case. But the bulls are resilient and they fought back to a degree. Now, this morning, following the accord between Cyprus and Greece, the U.S. equity futures are pointing to modest gains at the start of the trading day 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.