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After The Close - Stocks today showed more of the volatility that has become increasingly common in recent weeks, but nevertheless managed gains in both the major averages and the broader market, and finished at their highs for the session. Since the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s rallied to all-time highs above the 15,000 level in May, trading has turned choppy as investors mull over a variety of concerns.

At the close, the Dow was 80 points higher, after having been down as much as 115 points, while the NASDAQ gained 23 points, despite a swoon similar to the Dow’s on a percentage basis that bottomed out around midday. As for the broader market, advancing issues topped decliners by a wide margin on the New York Stock Exchange. Many investors missed the historic rally in stocks over the past year, and seemingly are buying the dips.

As far as news goes, it wasn’t an especially busy day. The weekly initial jobless claims figure didn’t suggest any meaningful change in labor market trends was taking place. But there was a positive report by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas that noted the number of planned layoffs at companies in the United States dropped for the third month in a row in May. That eased some of the fear that government spending cutbacks would exact a steep toll on employment rolls.  

A sharp drop in the U.S. dollar index was more jarring, though. The euro and the yen both advanced strongly against the dollar, which likely contributed to the volatility in stocks early in the session. Comments by representatives of the European Central Bank pointed to no further central bank stimulus at this time.

Among individual issues, shares of Ciena (CIEN) had a big day after the telecom equipment manufacturer topped revenue estimates and issued an upbeat forecast. Quarterly results from jam-maker J.M. Smucker (SJM) disappointed Wall Street, though. Its stock fell as a result. 

Tomorrow brings the much-anticipated government nonfarm payrolls report at 8:30 a.m. EDT, in which about 165,000 jobs are expected to have been added in May. But it could turn out to be one of those situations where good news is bad news, and vice-versa, at least in the very short term. If significantly more jobs than projected were gained, investors might sell stocks on the thinking the Federal Reserve might soon taper its bond-buying program. In the long run, though, there is little doubt that a stronger labor market and a better economy would be supportive of higher stock prices. - Robert Mitkowski

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

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12:30 PM EDT - The stock market began today’s session bouncing higher, but is now pulling back notably. Thus, as we pass the noon hour in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off 115 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is down 10 points; and the NASDAQ is shedding 22 points. Market breadth is still mildly positive, with advancing stocks ahead of decliners by a narrow margin on the NYSE. But, if the market continues to falter that could change. The various market sectors also show a somewhat fragmented trend, with strength in the utilities, telecom, and healthcare stocks. Meanwhile, there is some weakness in the financial, technology, and energy issues.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index is now testing its 50-day moving average, located at 1,606. This level provided some support during pullbacks in April and February, so it will be a crucial area to watch. Notably, trading volumes have risen lately, as the market has slipped, suggesting there is now some concern among traders. However, it also is worth mentioning that we have not seen any large panic selling, and the markets have pulled back in an orderly manner, so far. Furthermore, modest pullbacks of about 10%-15% are quite common reactions in bull markets, and do not suggest that a full blown bear market is at hand. While it is true that stocks have staged a massive run, and that valuations may have become stretched, it is also important to note that the economy at home is doing well, corporate profits have been encouraging, and there is little to suggest that larger problems are soon to surface.

The economic reports released today have been supportive, overall. Initial jobless claims for the week ended June 1st came in at 346,000, which was slightly better than analysts had been expecting and also lower than the prior week’s claims.  Weekly continuing jobless claims also showed some improvement further adding force to the notion that things are getting better.  Tomorrow we will receive more information on the employment situation, with the release of the Government’s employment report for the month of May. While it is not clear how predictive the ADP report actually is, it should be noted that we did get some decent numbers there, and that may suggest that things are moving in the right direction. - 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 this morning, as April-period results continue to trickle in and May same-stores sales figures are released. On the earnings front, shares of Ann Taylor and LOFT parent ANN Inc. (ANN), appliance and electronics seller Conn’s (CONN), power company FuelCell Energy (FCEL), telecommunications equipment provider Ciena Corp. (CIEN), and packaged foods company J.M. Smucker (SJM) are all trading higher in the premarket. Turning to May sales, investors appeared pleased with figures from warehouse club Costco Wholesale (COST), and that equity is up modestly ahead of the bell. It was not all good news, however, and the stock of women’s apparel and accessories retailer Ascena Retail Group (ASNA) and payment terminal maker VeriFone Systems (PAY) are both indicating sharply lower openings this morning on earnings news. – 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 - It is all about the Fed these days, or so it would seem, with a dose of concern put in regarding the spreading recessions in Europe, the slowing growth in China, and uncertainties now evolving in Japan regarding the effectiveness of stimulus measures being undertaken in the world's third largest economy.

These concerns, moreover, seem to be mounting, and as they do stocks are falling around the globe, in particular across Japan, where the past fortnight has seen something on the order of an 18% retracement following a strong multi-month run-up in equity prices. Europe, too, has weakened, with the principal bourses in London and on the Continent awash is a sea of red ink in recent sessions. And our stocks have lately been on the defensive--albeit still modestly so, in the aggregate.

In fact, the latest example of this sell first and ask questions later took hold yesterday, when equities dropped in Asia the previous night and in Europe early in the morning, and then proceeded to march in lock step on our shores, with nary a break in between over the course of the trading day.

Our problems appear to be largely Fed-related, but with added concerns regarding the aforementioned uncertain growth strategies announced by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, lately dubbed "Abenomics", by doubting pundits. In essence, a speech given by the Prime Minister fell short of the mark--as it was perceived by some to be light on details--and, according to subsequent action by traders, helped set a bearish tone and push stocks sharply lower in the world's third-largest economy. In all, stocks in Japan have now fallen to a two-month low.

Over on our shores, the combination of Japan, a mixed payroll report on the private sector issued early yesterday by Automatic Data Processing (ADP), and a slightly better survey on non-manufacturing activity combined to send stocks materially lower early in the session. Then, in the early afternoon, the Federal Reserve released its Beige Book compilation of economic activity across the United States, and that issuance did little to calm skittish investors, as the respective Fed Districts noted that the nation's economy expanded at a ``modest to moderate'' pace since mid-April.

But the big near-term worry is not Japan, China, nor Europe, but rather the Fed, and the concern is that Friday's data on non-farm payrolls might be strong enough to cause the central bank to soon slowing the rate of asset purchases, notably bond buying, an endeavor that has contributed mightily to the long bullish run on Wall Street. Armed with such concerns, the leading averages all took a decisive hit yesterday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 217 points, the NASDAQ shedding 44 points, and the S&P 500 Index falling by 22 points. Any attempts throughout the day to rally were less than half-hearted and came up well short, with equities closing fairly near their lows for the session. The lone encouraging note was that this decline, the second largest of the year in terms of the Dow, was on very low volume. That would suggest that we are far from being in a panicky retreat, at least as yet.

Now, a new day dawns, with the report of note issued moments ago showing that first-time jobless claims had eased modestly in the latest week, as expected. More important, of course, will be tomorrow's issuance by the Labor Department on job growth and the jobless rate for May. That release has material market-moving potential, especially in this fragile and very volatile setting on Wall Street. For the moment, though, the averages seem to be setting up for a modestly higher opening on our shores in less than an hour from now, in a possible attempt at bargain hunting following the recent string of setbacks. This possibility comes after some further reversals in Asia overnight, but generally higher equity prices in Europe.  We would expect a volatile session today, to say the least, with perhaps increased gyrations near the close, as the bulls and the bears establish new positions in advance of tomorrow morning's scheduled 8:30 (EDT) employment report. Stay tuned. – Harvey S. Katz

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