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After the Close - The U.S. stock market put in a somewhat weaker session today. However, it should be noted that the major averages managed to close off their lows, suggesting buyers were moving in to support stocks in the afternoon. At the end of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 34 points; the broader S&P 500 Index was down about one point; and the technology-heavy NASDAQ lost two points. Market breadth was negative, as declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE. Weakness was distributed throughout most of the market’s various sectors. Specifically, there were sharp declines in the basic materials issues, as the metal and mining stocks lost ground. The industrials were quite weak, too, with losses in the aerospace shares. In contrast, there was some strength in the healthcare sector today, thanks to gains in the volatile biotechnology names.

To some extent, the markets on our shores took their cue from weakness overseas. Notably, the markets in Asia were off sharply overnight, after disappointing trade figures were released in China. This set a negative tone for the trading in Europe, and later in the United States. Also on the international front, ongoing uncertainty about the situation in Ukraine may also be keeping traders on the sidelines.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index remains near new high ground. However, after logging a large move up a few days ago, it seems stocks may need a few days of consolidation. Sentiment did not change much today, as the VIX was up just slightly to 14.29.

Traders received no notable economic reports this morning. The lack of information probably did not help matters, as investors generally do not do well with uncertainty. Tomorrow will also be a light day for economic news. However, we will get a look at wholesale inventories for January.

We received few notable earnings reports this morning. After the close we will hear from Urban Outfitters (URBN), an important retailer. Also, FuelCell Energy (FCEL) is set to issue its figures. Notably, that stock and similar issues, such as Plug Power (PLUG), have been rising sharply lately. - 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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12:15 PM EST - It is another down Monday that has greeted investors this morning, much the way last Monday dawned on Wall Street. Hopefully for the bulls, they will enjoy an ever-more common Monday-Tuesday reversal this week, of which we have spoken on many occasions, if the current notable downtrend is to continue throughout the session. We had seen just such a reversal last week, with Tuesday's win for the bulls more than offsetting Monday's sharp retreat.

Specifically, after a modestly weaker opening on logical and persisting worries about the tense situation in Ukraine and the very quickly eroding outlook in Crimea, and a report showing a surprise drop in manufacturing in China, the losses deepened into the mid-morning with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling to a session low retreat of close to 120 points just before 11:00 (EDT) this morning. Then, stocks stayed there for another 30 to 40 minutes when some selective buying surfaced, and helped to halve the loss, shortly before noon in New York.

Meanwhile, the other averages also sold off, but not as sharply, and as we pass the noon hour along the East Coast and bask in the glow of somewhat more tolerable late-winter weather, we find that those equity indexes are all moving back toward the neutral line, although there remains a rather negative to the trading action.

As to the dour tidings from China, data issued over the weekend showed that exports from the world's second largest economy had fallen unexpectedly by some 18% in February; an increase of 5% had been the consensus outlook. In January, by comparison, this metric had risen by 10.6%.

Also, while there are no economic releases of note today and earnings news is scarce as we are long past fourth-quarter reporting season, save for the retailers, who are typically on a January ending year, there has been some news coming out of the Federal Reserve, where a central bank official has weighed in with his monetary views. Specifically, in Paris earlier today, Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, a noted monetary hawk, intoned that the pace of monetary tapering "may be too slow.'' 

Also, on the economic front, oil prices fell back today, with April crude down by about a dollar a barrel earlier. Also, gold prices are little changed in trading today thus far. Few big moves of note among individual equities also are indicated today, and some earlier downticks in the materials area have eased off, although moderate declines are still evident among some steel stocks and precious metals issues, with shares of Freeport McMoRan (FCX) being especially weak.

As to economic news on our shores, there is little of note today, tomorrow, or Wednesday. However, on Thursday, the business beat picks up with data to be issued on retail sales for February, where a 0.2% gain is the forecast, and on weekly jobless claims. Then, to end the week, we are scheduled to get reports on producer price inflation and consumer sentiment. No big surprises are forecast on either of those fronts.

Thus, as we head into the afternoon, we find that the Dow is now off by 80 points; the Standard and Poor's 500 Index is lower by six points; and the NASDAQ is in the black by 13 points, as the mini-rally of the late morning seems to be losing a bit of steam at this point. - Harvey S. Katz, CFA

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 The saying that “there’s always money in the banana stand” is ringing true this morning, as shares of Chiquita Brands (CQB) are moving sharply higher ahead of the bell, after the company, which sources and distributes bananas and other fresh produce, agreed to merge with industry peer Fyffes in an all-stock transaction valued at just over $1 billion. Elsewhere, chemicals company FMC Corp. (FMC) has announced plans to split into two separate publicly traded companies, one to focus on agricultural solutions, health, and nutrition, and the other on the minerals business. FMC stock is indicating a moderately higher opening this morning, in response. 

Elsewhere, there isn’t much news on the earnings front, although household goods retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) has trimmed its February-period earnings guidance, citing severe winter weather. Inclement weather also weighed on sales at McDonald’s (MCDFree McDonald’s Stock Report) during the month of February. Indeed, the restaurant operator said that comparable-store sales slipped 0.3% last month. On the bright side, drugmaker Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN) raised its 2014 guidance, and the stock is moving higher in the premarket, 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 begins the new trading week in familiar fashion, that being with most of the major equity averages turning in nice performances during the prior five-day stretch. Last week, the major equity indexes were able to shake off a very difficult start, prompted by the concerns about the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and eventually move higher as those concerns eased a bit and the much-anticipated report on the U.S. employment proved to be better than expected. For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, the broader S&P 500 Index, and the small-cap Russell 2000 were up 0.8%, 0.7%, 1.0%, and 1.7%, respectively.

The most telling aspect of last week’s performance was the relative outsized gain in the small-cap Russell 2000, which, along with the still very low reading for the S&P 500 Volatility Index (or VIX), clearly shows that investors are still not averse to adding more risk to their portfolios, even with the stock market looking overextended at the moment. Our sense is that investors don’t have many viable alternatives to stocks to place their funds right now with interest rates still near historical lows. On point, bonds were once again out of favor on Friday, as evidenced by the jump in yields, which move in the opposite direction to prices. Nevertheless, there may be some investor fatigue setting in, as the aforementioned positive jobs creation report—the nation added 175,000 new positions versus the expectation of a 163,000 increase—failed to spark significant buying at any point on Friday.

Meantime, the recent economic news has been mixed, but even the weaker reports have not led to any kind of significant selling, as those reports have been quickly brushed off as being weather related. Last week’s slate of economic news included both the good and the bad. The week started off with a better-than-expected report on manufacturing activity, but the Institute for Supply Management’s companion report on non-manufacturing activity (issued on Wednesday) failed to excite investors. Then on Friday, investors, at least initially, cheered the better-than-expected report on nonfarm payrolls. If anything, the jobs report did nothing to suggest that the Federal Reserve will not continue on its current path of tapering its monthly bond buying program—and that is something investors appear to be pleased about. The recent reaction or lack thereof to some of the weaker reports of late will also place greater importance on the economic data issued later this year when the weather can’t be used as an alibi for any missteps.

Now, as the new week begins, weaker trading overseas—particularly overnight in Asia—and a lower reading for both the S&P 500 and NASDAQ futures here suggest some profit taking may be in store for the U.S. equity market when trading gets underway in less than an hour from now. Weighing on world equities was some weak trading data from China. Specifically, China’s exports fell 18%, year over year, in February, pushing the Asian powerhouse’s trade balance into a deficit and raising some concerns about a slowdown for the world’s second-largest economy. In addition to pressuring stocks in Asia—Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 1.8%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 finished 1.0% lower—China’s weak trade data are slamming commodity prices worldwide.  The economic data from China is overshadowing relief that Crimea remained largely calm over the weekend, though the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe still remains very fluid right now—and could spark significant trading in either direction based on forthcoming news. Stay tuned. – William G. Ferguson

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