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After The Close - The major U.S. equity indexes, particularly the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the broader S&P 500 Index, pressed nicely higher again, with the latter average hitting an all-time high for more than the 30th time this year. Investors again brushed off some disappointing reports on the economy, perhaps taking the weak data as another indication that the Federal Reserve will continue its aggressive bond-buying program. Historically such accommodative policies are greeted kindly by equity market participants—and that clearly seemed to be the case again today. All told, the Dow 30 and the S&P 500 Index added 111 and 10 points respectively. Still…

Not all of the major indexes witnessed percentage gains as big as the two aforementioned composites. The small-cap Russell 2000 and the S&P Mid-Cap 400 Index only finished modestly above the neutral line, while the percentage gain for the tech-heavy NASDAQ was less than half of those recorded by the Dow 30 and S&P 500 Index. As for the small and mid-cap stocks, investors may be shying away a bit from riskier equities with market valuations now frothy.

Meantime, the NASDAQ, which has seen its share of operating problems in 2013, had to deal with another glitch during today’s trading session. At around noon on the East Coast, NASDAQ data froze and remained that way for about an hour. NASDAQ stocks, though, were unaffected by the latest drama. However, the NASDAQ was pressured some by weakness in the shares of Apple (AAPL), which reported results after the close of trading yesterday. Investors seemed to be concerned about the technology behemoth’s below-consensus first-quarter 2014 margin guidance. In the technology space, rumors have begun to swirl that smartphone maker Blackberry (BBRY) had recently approached Facebook (FB) to gauge the social media giant’s interest in acquiring the struggling company. 

As noted, it was a very busy day for the economy, with reports released on producer (wholesale) prices, retail sales, and consumer confidence. In particular, the latter two releases did not make for compelling reading. Before the market opened, we learned that retail sales fell modestly in September, and then shortly after trading began, the Conference Board reported a plunge in October consumer confidence. Not surprisingly, these two reports limited the gains for the consumer discretionary stocks. However, one retailing stock that did move higher today was 2013 stalwart Michael Kors (KORS), which will replace NYSE Euronext (NYX) in the S&P 500 Index after the close of trading on November 1st. Investors should also note that among the top-10 major sectors, the biggest laggard was the basic material group, which so happened to be the only sector to finish the session in the red. Conversely, the healthcare stocks were in demand today, helped by better-than-expected earnings from drugmaking giant Pfizer (PFE - Free Pfizer Stock Report).

Speaking of earnings, in addition to the aforementioned headline reports from Apple and Pfizer, we did get a few other noteworthy releases in the last 24 hours. Shares of BP PLC (BP) and Valero Energy (VLO) were higher after the energy companies reported good results.  Likewise shares of Nokia rose after the company released decent quarterly results. Shares of U.S. Steel (X), with a late surge, finished well into the black even though the steelmaker, while posting a smaller-than-expected loss, saw revenues fall short of Wall Street’s expectations.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, investors will once again have a lot of earnings reports to digest, but the investment community’s attention will likely be focused on the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s two-day monetary policy meeting and some important reports on the economy.   – 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 putting in a selectively better, and somewhat mixed session so far today. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 58 points; the S&P 500 Index is ahead five points; and the NASDAQ is essentially flat. Market breadth suggests an uneven tone to the session, as advancers are just about even with decliners on both the NYSE and the NASDAQ. However, a number of market sectors are making positive strides. There is strength in the energy names, as shares of oil and gas producers are up a bit. The consumer non-cyclical issues are also performing well. Further, there is some progress being made in the technology group, thanks to strength in the semiconductor issues. Notably, the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index (SOX) is up over 1% today. Nonetheless, there is weakness in the basic materials issues, and the high-yielding utilities are once again underperforming.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index continues to drift into new high ground, driven by a decent third-quarter earnings season. Notably, the majority of companies that have reported delivered positive results, so far, and that is likely pushing stocks higher. This also may help justify the market’s elevated price-to-earnings multiple, to some degree. Meanwhile, it should be noted that a good number of the small-cap names have yet to release their figures, and these issues can be quite volatile.

Traders received somewhat mixed economic news today. Retail sales slipped 0.1% in September, which was, more or less, as expected. Notably, weak auto sales accounted for much of the decline. In fact, when auto sales are excluded, retail sales actually increased 0.4% for the month, which was quite a bit better than the 0.1% gain logged in August, but still in line with forecasts. Elsewhere, producer prices dipped slightly in September, but the core reading rose nominally for the month. In addition, business inventories increased slightly in September, while consumer confidence fell notably in October. The Federal Reserve is convening its two- day meeting, and a rate decision and some remarks will be due out tomorrow afternoon. However, we don’t expect any change in policy to be announced.

The corporate earnings reports continue to pour in. Last night we heard from Apple (AAPL). That leading stock is off a bit on margin concerns. Also, shares of high-flying 3D Systems (DDD) were down, but since recovered, after a mixed release. - 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 SurveyInvestors continue to have their hands full with earnings reports again today. Notably, computer and personal electronics giant Apple (AAPL) delivered better-than-expected earnings in the September period and indicated that its margins are starting to stabilize. The stock is up just slightly ahead of the bell as a result. Other stocks indicating higher openings on earnings news include Internet radio operator Pandora Media (P), telecommunications equipment company Nokia (NOK), and energy companies Occidental Petroleum (OXY), Valero (VLO), and BP (BP). It was not all good news, however, and investors took issue with numerous quarterly reports. Indeed, shares of drugmaker and Dow-30 component Pfizer (PFEFree Pfizer Stock Report), hard disk drive manufacturer Seagate Technology (STX), health insurer Aetna (AET), dietary supplement provider Herbalife (HLF), and engine builder Cummins (CMI) are all moving lower in pre-market trading. 

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 the new week on a modestly weaker note as investors awaited the latest quarterly earnings report from tech behemoth Apple Inc. (AAPL), balanced some good and bad news on the economy, and prepared for the Federal Reserve's next FOMC meeting, which commences this morning and concludes tomorrow afternoon.

As to the equity market specifics, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which began the day in the red, then rallied around mid-session to an intraday gain of just over 30 points, finally closed just a point in the red, battling back from a late loss of modest proportions. The tech-heavy NASDAQ also finished just nominally lower, losing three points; the small- and mid-cap indexes also inched lower in a ho-hum session marked by limited moves in the aggregate, but by some rather definitive gains and losses individually.  

Meanwhile, the latest session featured a stronger-than-expected report on industrial production and factory usage for September, although the gain came largely from a better showing by the nation's utilities, which is a primarily weather-driven occurrence. The more important manufacturing component, though, showed just a scant 0.1% gain for the latest month. At the same time, the other half of that report, which covers factory utilization, also rose nicely, crossing the 78% line for the first time in some five years. On the other hand, the pending home sales report missed its mark. Taken in total, those economic metrics did very little to sway sentiment among investors, in our view.

More important were the major earnings reports. Here, drug making titan and Dow-30 component Merck (MRKFree Merck Stock Report) reported its latest results, and the pharmaceuticals giant outdid expectations on the profit line, although it still fell a few pennies shy of last year's net figure. However, Merck missed on the top line and the stock, most likely in response, eased back a bit in trading. Then, after the close, Apple's reported earnings, as expected, that were shy of last year's strong number. But the results were reasonable enough to lift the stock in pre-market trading this morning, after an initial after-market dip. Apple stock, which had retreated notably earlier this year, has been on a roll more recently. This report should help it further press forward a bit more.

As to other influences, the government reported moments ago that retail sales, one of the key reports that had been delayed by the earlier partial government shutdown, eased by 0.1% last month, whereas a nominal gain had been the forecast. However, if we back out the auto component, to get the so-called core rate of retail spending, we find that this metric rose by 0.4% for the month. More to the point on the economy, the Federal Reserve will soon be starting its two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting momentarily, where no change in the central bank's highly accommodative monetary approach is likely. Earlier, it had been thought that the Fed would begin to taper its bond buying by now. Certainly, many argued that a tapering effort would be under way no later than this December. Now, the guessing is that the Fed will wait until the spring--if not later--to slow down this process. The statement that accompanies the end of this meeting tomorrow afternoon should thus be instructive in this regard.

Now, a new day is upon us and buoyed by the Apple results, the markets in Europe are reacting positively, with the gains spreading across the sea to our futures, presaging a modestly firmer opening when trading commences in less than an hour from now. As to earnings, steelmaking giant U.S. Steel (X) reported a large loss for the third quarter on a massive charge and forecast an operating loss for the final stanza. Overall, earnings season has been decent thus far, but there have been some notable outliers, some of which have been dealt with harshly, even as the market, overall, has continued to advance. – Harvey S. Katz  

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