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After The Close - Stocks closed modestly lower today after moving between positive and negative territory for much of the session, only to move into the red for good late in afternoon trading. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 27 points and NASDAQ was off five points. Decliners held a slight edge over gainers on the New York Stock Exchange.

Stocks were unable to find the direction they needed to follow up on yesterday’s triple-digit gain on the Dow from this morning’s economic news. On that score, a tepid consumer confidence report for the month of February kept enthusiasm in check. There were also indications that the recovery in home prices might slow.

With no broad trends providing clear direction, investors focused on stories driving individual stocks. One of the biggest gainers on the Dow was the stock of Home Depot (HD - Free Home Depot Stock Report). The iconic home improvement chain reported solid results and offered up a hefty dividend increase, which pleased investors.

Another winner was the shares of retailer Macy’s (M). The department store chain reported fiscal fourth quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates and noted that although bad weather hurt sales, shopping trends would normalize once customers are able to get out more easily.

Shares of Tesla Motors (TSLA) also soared higher yet after a brokerage house boosted its opinion of the car maker’s prospects for boosting its presence in the electric storage grid.

Telecom operator Frontier Communications had a big day, too, after it reported a big increase in fourth-quarter profits. Its shares rose sharply as a result.

On the downside, Office Depot (ODP) stock slid after reporting wider losses and weaker margins. Many stocks only marked time on the day, as well.

Tomorrow brings fresh housing data and some more earnings reports. New-home sales for January are expected to have dipped a bit from January, but to have remained above 400,000 units. On the corporate side, drillers Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and Continental Resources (CLR) are projected to show good yearend profit gains. However, the tone to retailers’ bottom lines is thought to be much more mixed, likely owing to the unusually cold winter. Among L Brands (LB), Lowe’s (LOW), Target (TGT), and TJX (TJX), only Home Depot rival Lowe’s is expected to turn in a clear-cut gain. - Robert Mitkowski

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

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12:30 PM EST - The U.S. stock market got off to a weak opening this morning, but has since firmed up. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is ahead 13 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is up one point; and the technology-heavy NASDAQ is also higher by one point. Market breadth suggests some underlying strength to the session, as advancing stocks are ahead of decliners by a narrow margin on the NYSE. The market sectors are still mixed, but with some areas of strength. Specifically, there is leadership in the consumer stocks. The healthcare issues are doing well, too. In contrast, the basic materials sector is trading lower. Also, the energy issues are weak.

Technically, the stock market has been displaying some strength lately. The S&P 500 Index moved into new 52-week high ground yesterday, but then retreated. It may take a few attempts for the Index to make progress at this key level. Notably, stocks have staged a large advance earlier in February, and some consolidation might be needed here. Meanwhile, the VIX is headed lower, to just under 14 today, suggesting a bullish outlook.

Investors received a few notable economic reports today. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index came in witha reading of 78.1 for the month of February, just slightly below expectations. Meanwhile, the FHFA Housing Price Index showed prices rising 0.8% in December, suggesting the housing market is still likely recovering. We get a better look at this area of the economy as new home sales for January are due out tomorrow.

In corporate news, there are a few earnings reports worth mentioning. Shares of The Home Depot (HDFree Home Depot Stock Report) are trading higher, after Dow component and home improvement giant issued a decent release. Shares of Macy’s (M) are rising, as well, as the department store operator issued decent results. -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 Survey Investors continue to digest earnings reports, with the most recent batch headlined by Dow-30 component The Home Depot (HDFree Home Depot Stock Report). Shares of the world’s largest home-improvement retailer are up modestly ahead of the bell thanks to better-than-expected January-period earnings, a positive outlook, and a 21% increase to the quarterly cash dividend. Other stocks moving higher ahead of the bell on earnings news include concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment (LYV) and restaurant operators Bloomin’ Brands (BLMN) and Domino’s Pizza (DPZ).

Conversely, investors took issue with quarterly reports from solar energy solutions provider SolarCity (SCTY), department store operator Macy’s (M), acute care hospital operator Tenet Healthcare (THC), telecommunications company T-Mobile US (TMUS), and homebuilder Toll Brothers (TOL). However, the biggest disappointment appeared to come from Office Depot (ODP), and shares of the office supplies retailer are plunging in pre-market, as a result. – 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 - The U.S. equity market got off to a fast start in the final trading week of February, a month that has been very kind thus far to those long equities. Pushing stocks higher, particularly yesterday, was some positive reaction to a pickup in mergers and acquisitions the last few days. The increased M&A activity in Corporate America is seen as a sign of market strength. Investors also appear to be quickly shaking off some discouraging economic data of late, blaming bad winter weather that has blanketed much of the country in January and February for the recent setbacks. Many market pundits and economists are of the theory that once the weather improves, there should be a pickup in economic activity, particularly in the manufacturing and building sectors. We shall see.

All told, the Dow Jones Industrials, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index added 103, 30, and 11 points, respectively, yesterday, with the latter broader index hitting a new all-time high during the session. However, investors should note that some of Monday’s earlier gains were erased in the final hour of trading, with the index of 30 bellwether companies giving back around 90 points of the early gains by the closing bell. Could the pickup in late-day selling suggest that we may be in line for one of those Monday/Tuesday stock market reversals? With less than an hour to go before the commencement of trading on these shores, the S&P and NASDAQ futures are at least pointing to a lower opening for the U.S. equity market.

Meantime, the trading overseas today could be termed mixed. Overnight in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei stock index jumped 1.4%, while China’s Shanghai Composite and Hang Seng indexes were down, with the former closing roughly 2% lower. On the Continent, most of the major European bourses are in the red as trading enters the second half of the session. Hurting euro-zone stocks was a report showing that European Union economists forecast tepid growth for most of the region through 2015, while warning that lingering debt burdens and the specter of deflation could disrupt the recovery.

Turning back to the homeland, investors will be focused on the latest report on consumer confidence from the Conference Board, which is due out at 10:00 A.M. (EST). Will a subpar showing in that metric, which is certainly a possibility given some of the recent disappointing economic data, spark some selling on Wall Street or will that report be blamed on the recent bad weather? One thing we do expect, with the consumer confidence data due shortly and the slew of earnings reports this week from some major retailers with January yearends, trading activity in the consumer discretionary sector should be brisk. Speaking of the major sectors, most of the top-10 groups, save for the basic materials and utilities, finished in positive territory yesterday.

With the exception of the aforementioned quarterly reports due from the retailers, earnings season is rapidly nearing a conclusion. Overall, it could be termed a decent showing for the S&P 500 companies. The last of the Dow-30 companies, Home Depot (HD - Free Home Depot Stock Report) reported its quarterly results this morning. The release made for a good reading, as the giant home-improvement retailer posted better-than-expected earnings, though revenues were a bit on the light side. Shares of Home Depot are a few dollars higher in pre-market activity. - William G. Ferguson        

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