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After the Close - Stocks spent another session today largely consolidating the impressive gains they have made this year. With the Dow Jones Industrial Average already up nearly 18% so far in 2013, a material catalyst would seem needed to push the market higher still. Such a spark has thus far been lacking.

At the end of the day, the Dow closed down six points, but the NASDAQ ended ten points higher. Market breadth indicated a somewhat more positive bias, with the number of advancing issues slightly outpacing decliners on the New York Stock Exchange.        

Trading started out on a sour note, with Japan’s second-quarter GDP advancing by 2.6%, well short of expectations of 3.6%. Japan’s first-quarter growth rate was also revised down to 3.8% from a previously estimated 4.1%.

To the bears, the news suggested that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies are not as effective as had been hoped. But we give credit where credit is due. Corporate profits and the stock market have jumped in Japan this year, fueled by a weaker yen and improved domestic demand. For U.S. investors, it is important to see another major economy in Asia growing, should the slowdown in China prove more drawn out than anticipated.

Stocks began to come back late in the morning, helped by some merger news and potential dealmaking. Handheld device maker BlackBerry (BBRY) announced that it was exploring its options, including a potential sale. That helped to lift its stock price. Meantime, piano maker Steinway Musical Instruments (LVB) announced that it had found a higher bidder for the company. Even U.S. Steel (X) got into the act, as rumors arose, as they occasionally do, that it might be taken over.

But there were few broad themes to be found overall. Among sectors, materials stocks did well, enjoying the fading glow of a favorable economic report out of China late last week. Barrick Gold (ABX) was up on heavy volume, helped as well by higher gold prices. Potash of Saskatchewan (POT) also enjoyed a bounce after recent heavy selling.

Investors will have more economic data to mull over tomorrow, including figures on retail sales for July and business inventories for June. But the data could prove to be a double-edged sword. If those reports come in strong, the notion that the Federal Reserve will soon start unwinding its bond-purchasing program may take firmer root, and dampen sentiment.  - 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, which has now edged back into the minus column, has gotten little help from the overseas markets today. In fact, some of the weakness here may reflect sluggishness overseas. In Japan, for example, a weaker-than- expected second-quarter GDP forecast sent the Nikkei lower. However, the markets in China made some progress, possibly on reports that stimulus measures will be extended to key cities in that country. Meanwhile, the markets in Europe put in a mixed session.

At just past noon in New York, the U.S. markets are pressing a bit lower, after a brief rally. It remains to be seen what, if anything, will push the markets higher later in the session. For now, The Dow Jones Industrial Average is off 20 points; the S&P 500 Index is down three points; but the NASDAQ, which is a source of strength again, is advancing modestly. Market breadth suggests a somewhat better tone to the session, as advancing stocks are slightly ahead of decliners on the NYSE. Notably, it is important to see decent breadth, as this provides a more accurate picture of the health of the overall market.

Meanwhile, the various market sectors also are mixed. There is leadership in the basic materials names. This sector which had been weak in recent months, but has been displaying some strength lately, and traders may be rotating into some of these issues. Notably, the price of gold is up a bit today. The technology group is also moving higher, and interest in this key growth area is always encouraging. Meanwhile, there is weakness in the energy names, as the price of oil is lower today. The healthcare stocks are also declining, with losses in the biotech names.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index has spent the past several sessions consolidating in a sideways range just above 1,680. Traders will simply have to wait and see if the bulls can move the index back above the 1,700 mark. Notably, second-quarter earnings season, which wasn’t too bad on the whole, likely helped give equities a boost. With limited corporate reports, it is not clear what traders will choose to concentrate on.  The likely candidates would be China’s prospects, the financial situation in Europe, and let’s not forget Fed policies here at home.

Meanwhile, there was limited economic news to review this morning. However, on the corporate front, traders received some merger and acquisition data. Specifically, Rockwell Collins (COL) announced that it will be buying ARINC Inc. for roughly $1.4 billion. On a related note, shares of BlackBerry (BBRY) are trading higher, on news that the struggling mobile device maker has reported that it will be exploring strategic alternatives. -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 SurveyThere is some news on the M&A front this morning. After climbing nicely on Friday, shares of BlackBerry (BBRY) are up sharply ahead of the bell again today, as the struggling smartphone maker has announced that it is exploring strategic alternatives, including joint ventures, strategic partnerships, or a sale, thereby confirming similar reports that surfaced late last week. 

Elsewhere, earnings news is fairly light today, although shares of Sysco Corp. (SYY) are trading moderately lower in the premarket, after the distributor of food, equipment, and supplies to the foodservices industry reported lackluster June-period results. – 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 - Wall Street gets ready to start a new five-day stretch following a rare down week in 2013, in which the key averages gave ground in four of the five trading sessions, including last Friday. All told, it was the poorest week since June with particular losses in the principal large-cap indexes.

When all the numbers were in on Friday, the final tallies for the week's concluding session showed that the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 73 points, after having been down as much as 150 points early in the session, before rallying during the day to at one point lift itself into positive territory. Near the close, however, the selling resumed. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index, meantime, shed six points, while the NASDAQ was lower by nine points. Interestingly, the small-cap Russell 2000 and the Standard and Poor's Mid-Cap 400, which have been outperformers for much of this rally, were essentially unchanged on the day.

Helping stocks to limit their damage was a favorable report out of China showing that the fast-growing country's industrial output had gained in the latest month. That dose of good news suggests that the world's second-largest economy may yet prove successful in orchestrating a soft landing in the months ahead. The better tidings out of China helped the basic materials issues, notably the steel and coal stocks, record some rare gains. Those groups have been among the stock market's weakest areas thus far in China. However, the upturn in the basic materials sector could not lift the fertilizer stocks, which have their own separate issues to contend with these days.      

Meanwhile, news was again sparse on our shores save for data showing a further decline in inventories in the latest month. That suggests the economy is not building momentum as fast as some data suggest, but it also implies that upcoming growth may be more substantial as those depleted stocks will likely have to be rebuilt.

Overall, though, it was a relatively quiet week for the economy. That will not be the case during the upcoming five-day stretch, however. To wit, the week ahead will feature high-profile reports on retail sales and business inventories tomorrow, producer prices on Wednesday, jobless claims, consumer prices, industrial production, and factory usage on Thursday, and housing starts, building permits, and consumer sentiment on Friday. There also will be several earnings reports of considerable note issued in the days ahead, as second-quarter reporting season concludes. Here, the higher-profile names include Dow components Cisco Systems (CSCOFree Cisco Stock Report) and Wal-Mart Stores (WMTFree Wal-Mart Stock Report).  

As to the markets in the day ahead, they were largely mixed in Asia overnight, with stocks in Japan dragged a bit lower as that nation reported a lesser rate of economic growth in the latest quarter than earlier envisioned. Stocks in Europe were mostly lower following that issuance, and the futures on our shores are indicating a somewhat lower opening when our trading gets under way in less than an hour from now. – Harvey S. Katz

At the time of this article's writing, the author had positions in CSCO.