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After The Close - The U.S. equity market, after a slight initial dip, regrouped quickly and then moved forcefully higher today. Driving equities were a strong showing from the technology sector—the NASDAQ was in the pole position among the major equity averages on that strength—and news that some bickering among Congressional leaders (more below) may result in President Obama not getting the approval from Capitol Hill that he was seeking to go ahead with a limited airstrike against Syria. At the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index were up 97, 36, and 13 points, respectively. Overall, advancing issues outpaced decliners by a sizable margin on both the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ.

Today’s buying was pretty encompassing, with nearly all of the 10 major sectors finishing in positive territory. Leadership came from industrial stocks, which rose on signs that the U.S. economy is moving ahead at a moderate pace, which was the latest consensus of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book summation of economic conditions. It also was a productive day for the financial, healthcare, consumer staples, and discretionary groups. Conversely, the utilities turned in another sluggish performance. Hurting that group is some sector rotation out of the higher-yielding area. The recent uptick in rates on fixed-income securities is making those less risky instruments an attractive alternative to the higher-yielding stocks.

As noted, the news from Washington regarding the government’s plans for Syria is being closely monitored by market participants. An announcement of any kind of strike against Syria could trigger a selloff of equities, as it could possible lead to disruptions in the world oil supplies, which could have at the very least some far-ranging short-term economic consequences for companies that rely heavily on crude oil to run their businesses. The delay in any offensive against Syria is thus being welcomed. Driving this sentiment were earlier reports that some Congressional officials, led by Senator John McCain would not be on board with what would amount to limited strike against Syria. Not surprisingly, crude oil prices retreated today on the continued U.S. military inactivity against Syria’s Assad regime. Then, within the last half hour of trading reports surfaced that a Senate panel voted to give President Barack Obama the authority to use limited military force against Syria in response to last week’s deadly chemical weapons attack.

Meantime, there was some major news from the technology world today. Specifically, Samsung Electronics provided the investment community with a sneak peek at its just announced Galaxy Note 3, an update to the mega-screen Galaxy Note II smart phone, and new smart watch called the Galaxy Gear, which works exclusively with the new and improved Note. Both products will be made available worldwide on September 25th. Meanwhile, the stock of rival Apple (AAPL) moved higher, as anticipation for the company’s soon-to be-released next-generation iTVs and iPhones builds. Today’s strong performance from Apple stock, along with a good showing from the shares of fellow industry behemoth Google (GOOG), pushed technology issues and the NASDAQ notably higher. 

There was also some important news on the economy today. Before the commencement of trading on these shores, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in July, as exports fell and imports surged. Record imports of foreign cars and trucks, along with higher oil prices were the main culprits. However, the underlying data did suggest that the U.S. economy is strengthening if at only a “modest to moderate pace”. That also so happens to be the prevailing view across the Federal Reserve District, according to the latest Beige Book summation. The report, which was released at 2:00 P.M. (EDT) today, also reinforces the growing sentiment that the Federal Reserve may begin to pull back on its bond buying by as early as this month. The U.S. equity market did not have much of a reaction to the latest report. Our sense is that the probability that the Federal Reserve will soon begin tapering has already been somewhat discounted by the market. In that same vein, we think that the scope of the cutback in monetary stimulus will have more of an impact on trading than the actual starting time. Investors also should note that another closely watched report used by the Federal Reserve to set its monetary policies will be issued this Friday when the Labor Department releases its latest monthly figures on employment and unemployment. Until then, the news regarding the Middle East will likely continue to have the biggest influence on the direction of trading both here and abroad.   - William G. Ferguson

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

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12:30 PM EDT - The U.S. stock market is heading strongly higher so far today, and is looking to extend its gains. Once again, what transpires in the afternoon will be of importance, as it will reveal much about traders’ sentiment.  As we pass the noon hour in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 110 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is ahead 14 points; the NASDAQ, which continues to show leadership, is up 33 points. Market breadth shows fairly broad support for stocks as advancers are ahead of decliners by about 2 to 1 on the NYSE. Most of the market sectors are in positive territory, as well. There is leadership in the financial names, which is encouraging. The technology sector, too, is doing quite well. Technology issues may be getting a lift from strength in Apple (AAPL) stock, on news that the company will release a TV product at an upcoming news conference. Meanwhile, the utilities are quite weak, once again.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index is making a rally attempt, building on yesterday’s gain. The index is now at 1,655, and not too far from testing an upside move through its 50-day moving average at about 1,665. The VIX is slightly lower today, to under 16, suggesting investors are feeling a bit less apprehensive about the market.

Investors received a few economic reports worth noting today. Specifically, the nation’s trade gap came in a $39.1 billion in July, which was somewhat higher than June’s $34.5 billion figure, but not far off expectations. Meanwhile, the Fed will issue its Beige Book summation for the month of September later today, and that has the potential to influence the market. This is especially the case in the current climate, where traders seem intensely fixated on the Fed’s asset purchase program and the general direction of interest rates.

In the corporate arena, there have been a few reports that may be catching investor’s attention. H&R Block (HRB) stock is off after the tax preparer put out weak results. Dollar General (DG)stock is trading higher, after the retailer issued a decent report. LinkedIn (LNKD) stock is slumping on news that the social media company will be conducting a share offering.

For now, the market seems to be reserving an opinion on a possible strike against Syria. However, that situation can still play a role, and cannot be ignored. -  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 This will likely be another quiet trading day on Wall Street following the end of the second-quarter reporting season. But there are a few noteworthy events on tap. Financial services giant and Dow-30 component Bank of America (BAC - Free Bank of America Stock Report) is selling the last of its holdings in China Construction Bank for a reported $1.5 billion. Household goods powerhouse and Dow staple Procter & Gamble (PG - Free Procter & Gamble Stock Report) is planning to offer a lower-priced version of its Tide detergent. Meanwhile, discount retailer Dollar General (DG) posted second-quarter results that topped the consensus view, and the stock is suggesting a nicely higher opening. – Sharif Abdou

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 - Stocks roared out of the starting gate yesterday morning, with the bulls apparently emboldened by President Obama's indication that he intends to secure the approval of Congress before launching a military strike against Syria rather than opt to do so via executive decision alone. Late last week it seemed as though the President would go by executive action solely.

The threat of a military move against that nation, which is engaged in a bloody civil war, had rattled investors in recent sessions, and led stocks, in general, down a lower path during August. However, this latest delay, coming over the holiday weekend on our shores, and some perkier market activity overseas overnight and yesterday morning combined to lift stocks sharply early in the day. To wit, after the first few minutes of the trading day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had sped to a gain of almost 125 points. The other averages had responded in kind, with the tech-heavy NASDAQ leading the way to an early uptick of more than 45 points.

However, as the morning progressed, there were second thoughts among traders, as House Speaker John Boehner voiced support for such a military move, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested that approval from Congress appeared likely when the House and Senate reconvened early next week. So, these early gains wilted in short order, and by mid-session, the Dow was clinging to just a nominal advance. But the averages managed to hang in there as the afternoon commenced, and the gains persisted though the lunch hour. As traders returned to their desks en masse, though, the Dow slipped into negative territory. In fact, by early- to mid-afternoon, that blue chip composite had fallen some 35 points into the red. Thereafter, the Dow went in and out of positive territory for a time, while the Standard and Poor's 500 Index and the NASDAQ danced around the unchanged mark briefly, before nearly falling into the red, as well, later in the day.

By the close, though, the ship had partially righted itself, albeit modestly, with the large-cap indexes leading the way, as a sense of calm returned, as we now await a thumbs up or thumbs down vote next week by the Congress. All told, the Dow added 24 points; the S&P 500 Index rose seven points; and the NASDAQ tacked on 23 points. However, the S&P Mid-Cap 400 still lost two points on the day, though the small-cap Russell 2000 ended up nicely in the black. Gaining stocks, moreover, led decliners on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ.

All of this transpired on a day in which we received some better-than-expected economic news on our shores, as the Institute for Supply Management reported that manufacturing activity had perked up further in August, reaching its best levels in more than two years, thereby affirming that the industrial sector will continue to be supportive as the business expansion further matures in the months to come.

Now, looking ahead, we have several other reports of note due out this week, headlined by tomorrow's data on non-manufacturing activity. A modest gain there is expected, while on Friday the Labor Department intones on non-farm payrolls and the unemployment rate. That is a politically sensitive metric and one that could have an outsized effect on trading should there be a marked divergence from the expected results, namely job creation well off of 170,000 for August. 

Meanwhile, a new day dawns, and the indecision shown yesterday by the back-and-forth movements on Wall Street seem to be continuing this morning, as the Standard and Poor's 500 Index futures are now off modestly, while the NASDAQ futures have reversed an earlier nominal decline and are currently suggesting some initial buying. Thus, we could have some speculative buying at the outset. But we caution that the Middle East situation is in flux; there are uncertainties about the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve; we still have the employment report to consider; and interest rates are still on an upward path, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury up to 2.87% this morning. Should that rate go above 3%, some psychological damage could be inflicted on the equity market. – Harvey S. Katz   
       
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.