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After the Close - The stock market’s major averages staged a comeback in early afternoon trading today, after a weak opening following data on retail sales that failed to inspire. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the NASDAQ finished higher by 31 points and 14 points, respectively. However, the broader market was not as positively inclined, with losers topping winners by a three-to-two margin on the Big Board.
Shortly after the opening bell, sentiment turned negative as an earlier issued report on retail sales fell short of expectations, although favorable elements in the report would later prove supportive of stocks.

It didn’t help, either, that the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit attempting to block the merger of U.S. Airways (LCC) and AMR Group (AMR), formerly known as American Airlines. Wall Street usually shows a keen dislike for government intervention in proposed business combinations, and today was no exception. Airline shares took it on the chin as a result, with United Continental (UAL) and Delta Air (DAL), among others, pulling back sharply on a percentage basis, in addition to U.S. Airways.

As the session wore on, though, word that a top Federal Reserve considered the economic landscape too mixed for the central bank to take decisive action regarding its huge stimulus program seemed to lift traders’ spirits. Talk about the Fed pulling back on its expansive monetary strategy has greatly concerned investors, given subpar growth in domestic GDP of late.

Among the stock market’s various sectors, technology was the clear winner today. Long-time investor Carl Icahn was reported to have tweeted that he has taken a large stake in Apple (AAPL), viewing its stock as undervalued. Shares of BlackBerry (BBRY) had another good day, too, after the device maker, in effect, put itself up for sale earlier in the week. Micron Technology (MU) stock was also on the move, following analysts’ upgrades after the company recently closed an acquisition that could boost its position in the memory chip market, and proposed workforce reductions.

Tomorrow brings fresh economic data on inflation, in the form of the Producer Price Index for July, where a tame reading is expected. Also on tap are earnings reports from Macy’s (M) before the market opens and, after the closing bell, tech bellwether Cisco Systems (CSCO Free Cisco Stock Report). But there may not be enough business news to push the market strongly one way or the other. Stocks have moved modestly lower since the Dow hit an all-time high earlier this month. - 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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12:20 PM EDT - The U.S. stock market got off to a weak start this morning, but has since pared its losses somewhat. Earlier in the session, investors in the United States largely shrugged off a strong showing by the markets overseas. Overnight, the markets in Asia all registered solid gains. Japan’s Nikkei rose after that country’s Prime Minister indicated that a more favorable tax package may be implemented. Moreover, the markets in China advanced, as many may be looking for additional stimulus measures. Meanwhile, in Europe, the bourses also made some progress, thanks to the release of some favorable economic data there.

At just past noon in New York, the U.S. markets are still in negative territory, but well off their lows. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is off 33 points; the S&P 500 Index is down two points; and the NASDAQ is lower by six points. Market breadth is still negative, with declining stocks outnumbering advancers by 2 to 1 on the NYSE. Meanwhile, most of the market sectors are trading lower, with pronounced weakness in the utilities. The consumer names also are lagging, and the financials are weak, as well. In contrast, there is some relative strength in the energy and basic materials issues. The technology stocks are also holding up better than many other groups.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index continues to consolidate. So far, the index has managed to stay above the 1,680 level. This area is likely important to technicians, as it functioned as support on numerous occasions in July, and it also roughly corresponds with the highs reached in May. Only time will tell, if the market can make a concerted push higher, breaking through 1,700, or if some more consolidation, and even a pullback, will unfold. The VIX is slightly higher to just above 13. However, this is still a low reading, and so far, sentiment seems relatively calm.

The economic news has been somewhat constructive this morning. Notably, retail sales rose 0.2% in July. The July sales increase also follows an upwardly revised 0.6% advance in June. Meanwhile, import and export prices for the month of July suggested little in the way of inflation, and business inventories were unchanged in June.

In the corporate arena, J.C. Penney (JCP) shares are off a bit, after activist investor Bill Ackman resigned from that company’s board of directors. Shares of BlackBerry (BBRY) are trading higher again, possibly on acquisition speculation. -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 SurveyWe’ve moved through the majority of earnings season, though reports continue to trickle in. To wit, shares of Flowers Foods (FLO) are up nicely ahead of the bell, after the producer and marketer of packaged bakery goods reported July-period results that impressed investors. The company’s outlook was also upbeat. Elsewhere, the stock of Yum! Brands (YUM) is down moderately in pre-market trading, after the restaurant operator announced weaker-than-expected July sales in China. Finally, shares of Orbitz Worldwide (OWW) are indicating a sharply lower opening this morning, on news that PAR Capital Management has sold about one third of the 24.6 million shares it owned in the online travel company. – 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 started off the new week on an unprepossessing note, managing to overcome an early loss of some magnitude, but never really being able to turn the heat up on the bears. To wit, some disquieting economic news out of Japan, regarding that nation’s first- and second-quarter economic growth, helped to push the Dow Jones Industrial Average down some 50 points initially. However, as the day wore on, there were some apparent second thoughts about things, and the leading averages began to climb back upwards, finally cresting narrowly in the black.

But the bulls could not sustain their narrow gains, and stocks soon headed modestly lower. By the close, the market was mixed, with the Dow and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index slightly in the red, while the tech-heavy NASDAQ, boosted by a nearly 3% gain in the shares of tech icon Apple Inc. (AAPL), which gained almost 10 points. Interestingly, there was once again some disproportionate strength in the small and mid-cap names, notably the Russell 2000 Index, which suggests that the speculative spirit is still very much alive on Wall Street, even as the market undergoes some mild, but overdue, profit taking.

The lack of material change in the composite likely reflects the dearth of economic and earnings news, as we had a rare day when all was quiet on those two key fronts. That will change today, at least on the economic front, as the Commerce Department has just reported that retail sales increased by a scant 0.2% in July, a bit less than the consensus forecast of 0.35% for the month. On a brighter note, sales were still up 5.45% from a year earlier, suggesting that there is still some appreciable forward momentum on the economic front as the summer wears on and we head toward what we feel will be GDP growth on the order of 2%, or so, for the current six months.  

Now, following this unimposing session, Wall Street can look, out on some better performances abroad so far today, with gains being spread across Asia overnight and now in Europe thus far this morning. The better showing on the Continent is being sparked by a sense that European economic output is about ready to improve notably. This feeling is being generated by improving economic sentiment across the region. Also, in the United Kingdom, home prices are heading higher as a faster rate than heretofore, which dovetails with the results in our housing market.  

Thus, armed with this good news, and not wholly dispirited with the aforementioned data showing a somewhat lesser rate of retailing activity on our shores, the U.S. equity futures are painting a modestly stronger market picture for the start of trading over here in less than half hour from now.   - Harvey S. Katz

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