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After The Close - The U.S. stock market put in a somewhat directionless session today. Further, at the close of the day, all the major averages ended in negative territory. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down five points; the broader S&P 500 Index was lower by four points; and the technology heavy NASDAQ finished off about 22 points. Market breadth suggested a neutral bias to the session, as advancing stocks were about even with decliners on the NYSE. However, these statistics were decidedly negative on the NASDAQ. The market sectors were largely divided. There was some strength in the energy area. Also, the utilities had a good day. In contrast, the dynamic technology sector was a bit weak.

Technically, the S&P 500 has been somewhat range bound. However, despite some sluggishness lately, the broad-based index is still above its 50-day moving average, located at about 1,834. Meanwhile, the NASDAQ has been quite weak lately, and that may have some traders concerned. Further, there seems to be no clear stock groups showing leadership in the market at the current time, and that further creates a fragmented situation. The VIX traded slightly lower, to around 14.6 today, which suggests that despite recent weakness, traders are not feeling too much panic.

Investors received quite a few notable economic reports this morning. Specifically, initial jobless claims dipped to 311,000 for the week ended March 22nd.  Weekly continuing claims, too, showed some improvement. Meanwhile, the third and final estimate for fourth-quarter GDP came in at 2.6%, which was largely as expected. However, the housing market looked a bit soft, as pending home sales slipped 0.8% in February.

Traders received a few corporate reports to sift through. Shares of lululemon athletica (LULU) were trading higher, after the yoga apparel maker put out a somewhat mixed report. Paychex (PAYX) stock was up a bit, after the payroll processor issued respectable figures. We will hear from Red Hat (RHT) after the close today. - 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 EDT - Sentiment toward stocks today has weakened heading into the noon hour on the East Coast. After an earlier mid-morning turnaround, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 46 points and the NASDAQ, which has been weaker throughout the session, is down 36 points. Market breadth favors the bears, with decliners topping the number of advancing issues on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ.

The morning started out with some reasonably positive data on the economy, with the final revision to fourth quarter 2013 GDP being raised to 2.6% from 2.4%, but a slightly higher markup had been expected. The United States economy averaged better than 3.0% growth for many years prior to the Great Recession, and has been only gradually rebuilding to that pace since. Still, Wall Street has done very well in the past few years with the type of moderate growth that has been the norm lately.

There was also good news on the labor market, with first-time initial weekly jobless claims falling to a four-month low. Less upbeat was a report issued by the National Association of Realtors that a gauge of pending home sales fell .8% in February to the lowest point since late 2011. Part of the decline can be chalked up to the roughest winter in a generation, but there is less inventory than desired available, which is pushing up home prices, and mortgage rates are on the rise. Government-sponsored-agency Freddie Mac today reported the rate on the average 30-year mortgage was 4.40%, up from 4.32% last week and 3.57% a year earlier.

Among the stock market’s sectors, shares of energy-related companies are in the lead. Oil prices have risen by more than $1 a barrel, to over $101, in New York on a continuation of cold weather in many parts of the county and the residual effect of tensions between Russia and Crimea. That is helping the stock of oilfield services provider Schlumberger (SLB) and driller Chesapeake Energy (CHK).

The banking sector is also in the news, with the results of the Federal Reserve’s annual stress tests just in. The big loser in this case is Citigroup (C), which came up short with respect to its planning capabilities. Citigroup stock is off notably on a percentage basis on heavy volume.

Heading into afternoon trading, investors don’t appear too excited, and may be awaiting clearer signals as to the tone of the upcoming earnings season. - Robert Mitkowski

At the time this article was written, the author did not have a position in any of the companies mentioned.

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Stocks to Watch from The Survey Banks are in the spotlight today, after the Federal Reserve released the results of its annual “stress tests”. Out of the 30 institutions under review, the Fed rejected capital plans from five, the most notable of which was Citigroup (C). Consequently, Citigroup stock holders will have to wait before they can be rewarded with increased dividends and share repurchases. Investors were clearly disappointed, and Citi stock is moving notably lower ahead of the bell, as a result. 

There is also some earnings news out. Athletic apparel retailer lululemon athletica (LULU) delivered January-period sales and earnings that were ahead of reduced forecasts, but management’s outlook fell short of expectations, and the equity is down slightly in pre-market trading, in response. The stock of consulting company Accenture (ACN) is also indicating a lower opening this morning on earnings news. Conversely, investors appeared pleased with quarterly results from payroll-services provider PayChex (PAYX), recreational vehicle manufacturer Winnebago Industries (WGO), and specialty retailer Signet Jewelers (SIG), as all three issues are climbing in the premarket.

Finally, shares of Baxter International (BAX) are up sharply ahead of the bell, after the medical supplies company announced plans to split into two separate publicly traded companies, one of which would focus on biopharmaceuticals and the other on medical devices. – 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 stock market left the starting gate quickly yesterday and for a time looked ready to build upon Tuesday's uneven improvement. In fact, early on, the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average was enjoying a gain of almost 100 points, while the recently beaten down NASDAQ, had recouped some 30 points. Indeed, for a time, it looked as though the bears would be once again thwarted in their latest attempt to wrest the reins from the bulls.

However, those good feelings didn't last all that long, and by the early afternoon, all of the key equity averages had given back their early gains and then some. What proved to be the market's undoing, apparently, was a warning by President Obama against "casual indifference" toward Russia over military escalation in Crimea. He took that opportunity to also call for more economic sanctions against Russia. The problems in that very tension-filled part of the world had rattled investors a couple of weeks ago, but had since largely retreated into the background, enabling the market to regain some of its earlier forward momentum.

But now, armed with a vivid reminder that the world can be a dangerous place, the stock market shook off some early optimism on the economic front that had been engendered by a better-than-expected headline number on orders for durable goods in February. The consequent increase of 2.2% in that volatile manufacturing category was one more piece of evidence that the weather-induced early winter lethargy was fast running its course.

To be sure, when we looked into the finer points of that issuance, the components were rather mixed, as capital goods demand, a core component of this series, was actually off last month. However, looked at as a whole, the report was somewhat better than expected and it did seem to light a fire under the market, at first. A strong showing in Europe early yesterday on hopes for added stimulus from the European Central Bank, as a possible way of fighting deflation, should that feared event come to pass, also gave an early lift to Wall Street.

But, in the end, the temptation to lighten up and take profits, of which there certainly are plenty this deeply into a historic bull market, was just too much. And by the end of the day, the averages were all in the red, led down the selling path by the NASDAQ, which lost an eye-catching 61 points, or 1.43%. The Dow, too, finished notably lower, falling back just under 100 points, in a late selling spree, which put that blue-chip composite at the day's low point. However, that point loss was proportionately smaller than for the NASDAQ. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index also gave ground, surrendering 13 points. The principal casualties yesterday, however, were the small- and mid-cap indexes. Here, the S&P Mid-Cap 400 shed 17 points, or 1.27%, while the small-cap Russell 2000 closed out a very poor session, surrendering 21 points, or 1.76%. Yesterday's performance was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination.

Among the day's notable casualties were the basic materials issues, including the gold mining stocks and the steels, with still-ailing Newmont Mining (NEM) and U.S. Steel (X) both in the red. Bucking the downtrend, in a rare show of individual strength were the big drug houses, principally Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and Dow component Merck (MRK - Free Merck Stock Report), which showed solid gains on the day. Aside from this group, the winners on the day were widely spread out.  

Now, a new day is upon us, and as we look out to the current landscape, we find that stocks in Asia were mixed overnight following the setback in New York yesterday. China’s main indexes were lower, while Japan’s Nikkei rose about one percentage point. In Europe, the principal bourses are pointing downward, as trading enters the second half of the session on the Continent. On our shores, meantime, the S&P 500 and NASDAQ futures are nominally higher after yesterday's late selling, suggesting some mild bargain hunting may be in play when the U.S. market opens in less than an hour from now. 

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