After The Close - It wound up being a down day on Wall Street, though it did not start out that way. The major U.S. equity indexes began the session in positive territory—helped by news that a deal was reached by Cypriot government officials to keep that country from defaulting on its debt obligations—but quickly reversed course after concerns began to set in that the harsh austerity measures under which Cyprus would have to operate might be used as a model for how the sovereign-debt problems of some of the larger struggling euro-zone nations might be tackled. Then, in the final few hours of the trading day, some of the earlier losses were pared after Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem (head of the euro group), whose comments earlier in the day rattled the markets, said that Cyprus is a unique case and will not be used as a template for other nations. Still, when all was said and done, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index were down 64, 10, and five points, respectively. Overall, declining issues outpaced advancers on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ.

It was a sea of red ink for the top 10 major sectors, with the biggest laggards being the basic materials, industrials, financial, and the technology stocks. Renewed concerns about the economic and financial stability in the euro zone are weighing on those sectors most closely tied to the performance of the global economy. Within the basic materials space, the construction materials and the chemicals stocks were the biggest laggards, while in the industrials area, shares of the construction and agricultural machinery companies were notably weaker. The transportation-related stocks pushed the Dow Jones Transportation Average lower, with shares of FedEx (FDX) the weakest performer within the 20-stock composite.

The major European bourses finished in the red as well, with the concerns about the euro zone weighing on the stocks there. In addition to the aforementioned news about Cyprus, the European indexes traded lower on rumors of a credit ratings downgrade for Italy, which is struggling to form a government after inconclusive elections last month. Italy's benchmark FTSE MIB equity index fell sharply on the speculation, while France’s CAC-40 and Germany’s DAX indexes were 1.1% and 0.5% lower, respectively.

The news from the euro zone, particularly the bailout agreement struck in Cyprus, had an opposite effect on the two most closely watched commodities. Specifically, May crude oil futures rose to as high as $95.65 per barrel following news of the bailout agreement for Cyprus, before easing to a gain of 1.2% for the session. Meanwhile, March gold contracts fell below $1,600 an ounce following the Cypriot rescue loan news. All told, the precious metal was down 0.6% in today’s session.

Turning back to the U.S., the attention of investors will probably be more focused on the homeland tomorrow as several important reports on the U.S. economy are due out. Before the market opens, the latest monthly data on durable goods orders will be released, while a half hour into trading will bring reports on new home sales for the month of February and consumer confidence for March. The consensus is that these three reports will provide a mixed snapshot on the economy. Such data, at least initially, should overshadow the news from the euro zone, which has been anything, but uplifting over the last week. -William G. Ferguson

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


12:00 PM EDT - The early euphoria that greeted investors on our side of the Atlantic, which largely evolved following what had transpired on the other side of the Atlantic, is fading fast as the noon hour arrives in New York. In fact, the key averages are now all in the loss column, albeit moderately.

Specifically, after a deal to keep financially encumbered Cyprus in the euro zone, on the euro (the common currency in that loose economic confederation), and in fact, afloat at all was structured over the weekend, there was widespread relief expressed in the financial markets in Europe and over on our shores.

And, following some generally nice gains in the futures during the pre-market session, the leading averages moved to the plus side directly out of the gate. To wit, shortly after trading had commenced, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was posting a gain of more than 50 points, establishing a fresh all-time high in the process. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index had likewise raced ahead to an early session gain of seven points, while the tech-heavy NASDAQ, boosted by strength in Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) was ahead by almost 20 points. Solid gains also were seen in the S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the small-cap Russell 2000.

But those good feelings have not persisted. Perhaps it is concern about the ultimate effect of the deal with Cyprus, where some in Germany are already objecting to the harsh banking terms. Then, there are the other issues yet to be dealt with in the European Union, most notably in Italy, where an uncertain political future is still a worry in that far-larger euro-zone member.

And on our shores, while there is a news vacuum today, that void will be quickly filled tomorrow when we are due to get reports on orders for durable goods, consumer confidence, and sales of new homes. A mixed aggregate tone is the expectation at that time.

Of course, there is more than just the economic data to contend with; there also is the political situation in Washington, where, the Senate has finally passed a budget, after four years. But that accord differs markedly with the budget deal put out by the Republican-controlled House. It will not be easy to broker a deal between the two sides.

Aside from economics and Washington, a number of companies are in the news today, headlined by Dell (DELL), with the computer maker having now received two additional buyout offers, one from famed investor Carl Icahn and the other from the private-equity firm Blackstone Group (BX). Dell shares are up modestly in trading thus far. Also gaining are the shares of Apollo Group (APOL) as that educational services company reported better-than-expected quarterly results.

Elsewhere, it seems as though the basic materials stocks are again leading the way lower, led by modest retreats in the shares of Alcoa (AA - Free Alcoa Stock Repot) and U.S. Steel (X).

Overall, as noon arrives on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is lower by some 50 points; the S&P 500 Index is down by three points; and the NASDAQ is in the red to the tune of almost 10 points. Modest declines also are being seen in the S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the small-cap dominated Russell 2000. - Harvey S. Katz

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 – There was some M&A activity over the weekend, as computer maker Dell (DELL) received two buyout proposals, one from famed investor Carl Icahn and the other from private-equity firm Blackstone Group (BX), which compete with company founder Michael Dell’s $13.65-a-share bid. A special committee of Dell’s Board of Directors is evaluating the offers, and Dell stock is trading moderately higher in the premarket as a result. Additionally, shares of Smithfield Foods (SFD) are up slightly in the pre-market trading, likely due to rumors that the world’s largest hog producer and pork processor has hired investment bank Goldman Sachs (GS) to explore strategic options.

On the earnings front, shares of Dollar General (DG) are trading nicely higher ahead of the bell, after the discount retailer released solid January-period results and updated its guidance. Likewise, Apollo Group (APOL) stock is indicating a sharply higher opening this morning, after the educational services company and University of Phoenix parent reported better-than-expected February-quarter financials.
Finally, shares of smartphone developer BlackBerry (BBRY) are headed for a lower opening today, following Friday’s lackluster debut of the company’s Z10 handset in the United States. – 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 - Wall Street's bulls came charging back at the conclusion of last week, with the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average rising by 91 points on Friday to close within some 30 points of another all-time high. And the early signs this morning are also quite positive, with the U.S. equity futures suggesting that not only is a record on the Dow likely on tap, but we also could see an all-time peak in the somewhat more broadly configured Standard and Poor's 500 Index, which is now showing a gain in the futures of nearly five points. In all, the S&P 500 Index, which stands at just under 1,557, is now less than 10 points from its record high set in October, 2007.

Helping the market this morning is news that Cyprus, the euro zone's second-smallest nation and one that is besieged by banking and other financial woes, has reached a deal to avert a financial meltdown, which might well have included that small nation's exit from both the euro zone and the euro, the confederation's common currency. Stocks are up around the globe in response to this accord in that beleaguered region.

As to the day ahead, the focus will logically be on Cyprus, as there is no economic news of note to be released on our shores, and we are still some two to three weeks away from the start of first-quarter earnings season.

However, today will be a brief respite on the domestic news front, as we will be getting some key metrics on the economy beginning tomorrow, when the U.S. Conference Board will report on Consumer Confidence. That important survey, which will cover most of March, is forecast to have dipped a little this month. Then, at the same hour, the Commerce Department will weigh in with data on new home sales for February. That survey, too, is forecast to have dipped, with sales easing from 4.37 million homes sold in January to 4.14 million in February. That report would run counter to the almost universal improvement now being enjoyed in the heretofore ailing housing sector. Also on tap tomorrow is set to be a report from the Commerce Department on orders for durable goods. Here, the news is likely to be somewhat better, with a solid upturn expected in this notoriously volatile series.  

Looking further into the week, after a hiatus on Wednesday, the U.S. Government will be back at it again on Thursday with data on revised fourth-quarter GDP. Initially, that series had shown a decline of 0.1%. One month ago, that report was revised to show an increase of that same token amount. Now, economists are expecting a further step up to a gain of about 0.6%. Finally, although the markets are closed for the observance of Good Friday the following day, the government still will be issuing data, this time chiming in with reports on personal income and personal consumption expenditures, both of which are forecast to be up strongly. Finally, that day also will see a report on consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan. Here, unlike the presumptive slight decline in the consumer confidence survey, a small gain is the forecast for this metric.

Thus, following today's slow start, it should be a busy week for the market watchers, and it could well be a pivotal one with both the Dow and the S&P 500 Index on the cusp of record highs. – Harvey S. Katz   

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