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After the Close -  Stocks traded in a narrow range on Wall Street today, with the major averages ending just grudgingly higher. At the end of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up two points, and the NASDAQ was 13 points to the good. The broader market showed some strength, though, with four stocks advancing for every three declining on the Big Board.

Holding up the train today were shares of McDonald’s (MCD Free McDonald’s Stock Report), where second-quarter results disappointed investors. The fast-food giant also indicated that performance for the remainder of the year would remain challenging. That news frankly isn’t too surprising, given Mickey D’s broad exposure to slow-growing economies around the globe. Competition from rival casual restaurants is fierce, as well. McDonald’s stock was the weakest performer on the Dow.

In other earnings news, shares of Kimberly-Clark (KMB) fell when the household products maker turned in a lackluster showing and said that a strong U.S. dollar could hurt sales. Halliburton (HAL) stock also gave up some ground, in active trading, when the oilfield services provider turned in results that only about matched analysts’ expectations.

On the bright side, shares of Federal-Mogul (FDML) jumped as the automotive parts supplier reported that it swung to a profit.

Gold stocks also enjoyed another nice bounce as the price of the metal rose again in New York trading. Gold was all the rage during the global financial crisis a few years back and through Europe’s dark days in 2011. Signs that economic conditions were normalizing turned investors bearish on gold this year, though. But the recent selloff in precious metals was deemed excessive, and that benefited shares of miners, such as Barrick Gold (ABX), which rose on heavy volume.

Although stocks held their own today, Wall Street has a couple of things to think about. One is that, although today’s existing-home sales data showed that the housing market recovery is largely on track, higher mortgage rates and rising home prices have the potential to dampen further gains in that bedrock sector. Moreover, the recent jump in gasoline prices could slow consumer spending. 

Tomorrow brings another full plate of earnings reports to digest. Among the notable names scheduled to release quarterly results on Tuesday are Dow components Travelers (TRV – Free Travelers Stock Report),  DuPont (DD - Free DuPont Stock Report), and United Technologies (UTX - Free United Technologies Stock Report). Also on tap are United Parcel Service (UPS) and, after the closing bell, Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T - Free AT&T Stock Report). Curiously, with the exception of AT&T, all of those companies are expected to turn in lower year-to-year earnings-per-share comparisons. - Robert Mitkowski

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

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12:30 PM EDT - The U.S. stock market got off to a choppy start earlier this morning, but has firmed up a bit since. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 15 points (0.1%); the S&P 500 Index is ahead four points (0.2%); and the tech-heavy NASDAQ is adding on 11 points (0.3%). Market breadth shows a favorable bias, as advancing stocks are outnumbering decliners by roughly 2 to 1 on the NYSE. The showing on the NASDAQ is a bit weaker. There is leadership in the basic materials issues, as the precious metals miners are advancing sharply. The price of gold is up almost 3% to $1,328 an ounce and that may be helping. Certainly, the materials sector, which had been a leader earlier in the bull market, has been underperforming lately, probably due to the weaker outlook for China. A renewed interest in these stocks could well help push the market higher. Meanwhile, the consumer names are sluggish today. Specifically, there are losses in the some of the housing-related issues, as housing re-sales were unexceptional (see below).

Technically, the market is once again showing strength, as the S&P 500 Index is set to log its fourth consecutive advance, assuming it closes up. Notably, trading volumes appear to be picking up, which is always a good indication. The VIX is slightly higher today, but the current reading of under 13 is still quite low.

Today’s economic news has been minimal, with just a lone housing report out. Existing home sales for June came in at 5.08 million units, annualized, which was a bit lower than last month’s downwardly-revised reading, and also short of analyst expectations. We will get some additional news on the housing front, when the new home sales figures for June are released on Wednesday. Overall, the housing market has been recovering for the past two years, and while weaker-than-anticipated reports are of some concern, they may not mean too much.

Finally, some widely watched companies reported results today. Specifically, we heard from Dow-component McDonald’s (MCD - Free McDonald's Stock Report). Those shares are trading lower, as investors were disappointed with thefast-food operator’s outlook. Kimberly Clark (KMB) shares are also off a bit, as the consumer staples company’s earnings held up well, but the top line was a bit sluggish. - 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 SurveyToday is another busy day on the earnings calendar, headlined by restaurant operator and Dow-30 component McDonald’s (MCDFree McDonald’s Stock Report), which delivered second-quarter results that fell a bit shy of investors’ expectations. Comparable-store sales rose in the United States in the second quarter, but the metric slipped in other regions. Unfavorable currency movements also weighed on the bottom line, and the stock is trading moderately lower in the premarket as a result. Other stocks down ahead of the bell on earnings news include newspaper publisher Gannett (GCI) and toymaker Hasbro (HAS). It was not all bad news, however, and investors appear pleased with quarterly results from oilfield services provider Halliburton (HAL), automotive parts supplier Federal-Mogul (FDML), and animal pharmacy PetMed Express (PETS). These three stocks are indicating higher openings this morning, with PETS shares showing the most strength.

In other news, shares of Nash Finch (NAFC) and Spartan Stores (SPTN) are soaring ahead of the bell, after the food distributors agreed to merge.  

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 Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard and Poor's 500 Index put in another solid performance last week, as one record after another fell, as those twin averages rolled up their fourth straight weekly gain. Easing worries about an imminent monetary tightening by the Federal Reserve and generally decent earnings from Corporate America appear to be just the ticket to higher equity prices these days.

Of course, the satisfaction with earnings is not universal, as holders of Microsoft (MSFT - Free Microsoft Stock Report) can well attest, as that software giant clearly disappointed investors after the stock market had closed on Thursday afternoon. The fallout was notable, as Microsoft shares, the most active stock by far in composite U.S. trading on Friday, plunged by $4.04 a share, or more than 11%, which is an exceptionally large move for such a blue chip. Also sinking in price on Friday was the semiconductor maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). That issue, likewise a victim of disappointing bottom-line metrics, fell by more than 13% on the day and ranked as the second most active issue.

Other tech issues, including Google (GOOG) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQFree Hewlett-Packard Stock Report), which have, along with Microsoft, been stellar performers so far this year, were hammered as well. For the most part, though, these stocks were outliers, and while the market turned in a mixed showing on Friday, the sentiment remains staunchly bullish.

As to other influences, the Fed, as noted, remains rather supportive, and while the central bank is increasingly likely to start tapering its bond-buying efforts by late this year, it seemingly has no intention of squeezing the monetary reins for some time. In fact, we still expect the Fed to refrain from raising short-term interest rates until at least 2015. Thus, for many, Wall Street remains the lone avenue for investment, even as most indicators are still quite positive on the real estate front.

And on that score, following a surprising and rather steep decline in both housing starts and building permits during June, with those metrics issued last Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors, a large trade group, will be reporting on sales of existing homes later this morning. Expectations are that this key housing statistic will show an increase for June from May's estimated annual rate of 5.18 million homes sold. We believe, in fact, that the housing starts and building permits data noted above were exceptions to the rule, as many builders, fearful of an inventory overhang, are slowing down the construction process just a bit. In fact, as if to underscore the ongoing strength in this critical sector, home prices are continuing to go up, even as building slows down, suggesting that current inventories are nowhere near being in excess.

As to other data points, Wednesday will bring the companion home sales report, as the Commerce Department reports on sales of new homes, a more volatile metric than housing re-sales. Here as well, a gain is forecast. Then on Thursday, we are due to get reports on weekly jobless claims and durable goods orders, while Friday sees the issuance of the latest survey on consumer sentiment. All the while, hundreds of large and small companies will be issuing their latest quarterly figures, including a number of large Dow components, including tomorrow's data from telecom giant AT&T (TFree AT&T Stock Report), chemicals maker DuPont (DDFree DuPont Stock Report), and diversified manufacturer United Tech. (UTXFree United Tech. Stock Report).

As for the day ahead, markets were stronger overnight in Asia, and they are gaining now in Europe; gold is continuing to recover; and oil is rising again. As to our futures, they are pointing to a mixed opening, with the main focus of strength being the NASDAQ, which could presage a rebound after Friday's setback. – Harvey S. Katz

At the time of this article's writing, the author had positions in T.