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After The Close - The major U.S. equity indexes started the session to the upside, helped, in part by some better-than-expected economic news on these shores (see below). However, the equity averages started to weaken as the morning progressed with market breadth turning mixed by the midday hour. Then, as trading moved into the second half of the session, selling picked up considerably and any attempts by the bulls late in the session to regroup were quickly turned back. At the closing bell, declining issues led advancers by a wide margin on both the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ.

When all was said and done, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index were down 99, 61, and 13 points, respectively. As noted, selling was rather encompassing, with the small-cap Russell 2000 and the S&P Mid-Cap 400 Index, particularly the former average, witnessing notable losses in the latest session. This, along with an increase in the S&P 500 Volatility Index (or VIX), was a sign that there was some more apprehension on the part of traders in the latest session. Taking a broader look at the market, we think there is some consolidation and sector rotation in place right now.

From a sector perspective, all of the 10 major sectors finished in the red. Even today’s early darlings, the consumer and healthcare groups, finished irregularly lower. The biggest laggards were the basic materials, technology, and industrials issues. The latter area was a big surprising given a much better-than-expected reading on February durable goods orders this morning. Within the basic materials space, the volatile precious metals and minerals stocks were the big losers, while the technology sector was hurt by a poor showing from the stocks of the IT services companies. The social media stocks, including shares of Facebook (FB), were under pressure, as well. Conversely, two big winners were the stocks of Dish Network (DISH) and DirecTV (DTV), which surged on talks of possible merger between the two companies.

As noted, the there was some important news from the business beat today. Before the market opened, the Commerce Department reported that durable goods orders advanced 2.2% in February; economists were looking for a decline in the metric last month. Then, this afternoon, we got some news on the automobile industry. Specifically, we learned the Kelly Blue Book is forecasting a 0.3% decline in auto sales during the fast-concluding quarter. Shares of the major automakers were mixed today; Ford (F), General Motors (GM), and Tesla Motors (TSLA) shares were in the red, while Toyota (TM) was up modestly.

On another light earnings news day—though investors should note that shares of Panera Bread (PNRA) fell after the company reaffirmed its guidance today—we did get some notable non-earnings news. On the IPO front, shares of King Digital Entertainment (KING), the maker of Candy Crush, debuted on the NASDAQ and were crushed by investors. Speaking of the IPO market, this is the hottest it has been since the dot.com market. Is this a sign of some optimism among business leaders these days or could it be a rush to raise capital ahead of what some investors fear could be a market correction later this year as the Federal Reserve continues to taper its asset purchases and push lending rates higher in the process? We shall see. - 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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12:15 PM EDT - The U.S. stock market opened higher today, but has since given back much of that ground. At just past noon in New York, the major averages are mixed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 21 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is higher by three points; but the NASDAQ, which has been a laggard over the past few sessions, is now in negative territory, off about 10 points. Market breadth suggests a mixed tone to today’s session, as advancing stocks are just about even with decliners on the NYSE. Some market sectors are making progress. There are decent gains in the healthcare area, thanks to renewed interest in the biotechnology issues. Some of the consumer names are also holding up well. In contrast, the basic materials sector is weak today, with losses in the mining names. The technology area is also now losing ground.

Technically, the market has stalled out a bit lately. While the S&P 500 has recently flirted with new high ground, sustaining this advance is proving a bit challenging. Moreover, the NASDAQ has experienced some selling lately, bringing the composite down to its 50-day moving average. Further, some of the technology leaders have come under fire. Specifically, stocks like Google (GOOG) and Netflix (NFLX) have pulled back, and it is likely important to keep an eye on these highly visible names. Nonetheless, for now sentiment is still stable, as the VIX is trading at just around 14, which is a very tame reading.

Investors received just one notable economic report this morning. Specifically, durable goods orders rose 2.2% in the month of February, which was better than the January showing, and also ahead of expectations. Tomorrow, things should pick up, as the weekly jobless claims are set to be released. Also, pending home sales for February are due out.

Meanwhile, it has been a quiet period for earnings releases. Nonetheless, shares of Movado (MOV) are trading higher, after the watchmaker put out a strong report. We will hear from Paychex (PAYX) after the close today. On the biotech front, shares of Exelixis (EXEL) fell sharply after the emergence of some unfavorable clinical data. - 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 – Investors are going over several earnings reports this morning, and the big winner appears to be Five Below (FIVE). Indeed, the stock is up sharply ahead of the bell, after the discount retailer announced better-than-expected January-period financials and offered a reassuring outlook. Staying in the retail sector, shares of Tommy Hilfigerand Calvin Klein parent PVH Corp. (PVH) and watch and jewelry company Movado (MOV) are also moving higher in pre-market trading after releasing January-quarter results. Conversely, shares of specialty retailer Francesca’s Holdings (FRAN) and slot machine maker International Game Technology (IGT) are indicating lower openings this morning on earnings-related news. IGT is down notably, while FRAN’s losses are more moderate, at least early on. – Matthew E. Spencer

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 - The stock market, to recap, had posted an irregular decline to start the week on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average giving ground grudgingly, losing 26 points in the process. But the NASDAQ, buffeted by outsized losses in a few tech names, was really hit hard, falling by just over 50 points, or better than 1% on the day. That said, as we entered yesterday's session, there were hopes that the strong start to the new day would be the opening salvo in another Monday-Tuesday reversal. Such a reversal has been the general rule over the past number of months.

And for the better part of the morning, that hope seemed as if it would become reality for the bulls, as the major averages jumped off to strong initial gains, with the Dow surging ahead by more than 100 points and the NASDAQ racing to a near 50-point advance at its morning peak. Indeed, it seemed as though the good times had returned, as a pair of economic reports proved reasonably supportive. 

On point, the Commerce Department noted just a small dip in February new home sales, even with the obvious penalty of the harsh winter weather for much of the month. At the same time, the Conference Board chimed in with its monthly survey on consumer confidence. This report showed a more formidable increase from February to March than had been forecast. Those twin reports, especially the latter, emboldened the bulls, and the stock market's early gains persisted through much of the rest of the morning.

However, around lunch time on the East Coast, the sellers reappeared, and erased much of the Dow's morning gains, and, in fact, pushing the NASDAQ into the red by some 20 points. However, it has been hard to keep these bulls down, and by the early afternoon, the buyers were back at it again, once more pushing the Dow up into triple-digit-point territory. However, this time, they did not take the NASDAQ along for the ride, as that tech-laden index, albeit again moving into positive territory for much of the time, did not do so with any conviction, and by the close, its gain was rather ordinary at eight points. 

On the other hand, there was nothing pedestrian about the Dow's increase, as that blue chip index added 91 points. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index also tracked nicely higher, gaining just over eight points. However, there was little conviction in the small- and mid-cap sectors, as the Russell 2000 and the Standard and Poor's 400 Index held near unchanged readings for much of the latest session. 

Overall, it was, on the face of things, an unexciting, though constructive, session. But what was interesting is the shift in leadership, at least for a second day running. Of note, the biggest gainer on the Dow yesterday was International Business Machines (IBM - Free IBM Stock Report), which until the past few sessions had been a notable laggard on that blue chip composite over the past year, or so. Another weak recent performer that is suddenly showing some belated life on the Dow has been networking giant Cisco Systems (CSCO - Free Cisco Stock Report). That issue also tracked nicely higher for the day. This could be suggestive of some group rotation, a turn of events that often takes hold during the latter stages of a long bull run. This doesn't necessarily mean that we are near such a transformational point, but it is a shift that bears some watching. Of course, it could also mean that some traders are just looking for undervalued sectors in which to place new bets.

Meanwhile, we now look ahead to a new day. And here, the major markets have pushed higher in Europe thus far this morning on hopes that the European Central Bank will take on additional stimulus measures in an attempt to do battle with some chronically low inflation. And on our shores, it seems as though Wall Street is set to build upon yesterday's selective gains, as the S&P 500 Index futures are now ahead by some seven and a half points, while the NASDAQ futures are posting a rise of better than nine points with less than an hour to go before the start of the new trading day. So after a pair of down days, on Friday and Monday, the bulls may well be in position to make it back-to-back winning sessions since that time. - Harvey S. Katz  

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