Saturday, March 27, 2010

US Market Commentary (After Market Close): Flat Close To A Choppy Week

Today's flat session capped off a choppy week, with the end result being a weekly gain of +0.6% in S&P 500. Stocks had continued their bullish trend during the first part of the week, but a sharp intraday reversal yesterday, and another intraday pullback today, pared a good portion of the week's gains. Although yesterday's weakness followed Greece headlines and a disappointing bond auction, and today's pullback took place amid escalating geopolitical concerns after a South Korean naval ship sunk, neither intraday pullback was directly triggered by a specific fundamental catalyst, making the moves more technically driven. After starting today on a positive note, equities gave up their early gains in a sharp late-morning pullback. 

Headlines stoking the idea of increased tensions between South and North Korea circulated, and most likely contributed to some risk-par ing, but it is still not clear if North Korea was involved in the sinking of the a South Korean naval ship and naval skirmishes between the two countries are not uncommon. 
 
Other than headlines on the Korean situation, intraday newsflow was relatively light and volume was below average. Before the open, revisions to Q4 GDP were slightly worse than expected, but didn't impact the pre-market trading picture. A better-than-expected revision to the March University of Michigan Confidence reading helped boost equities at 9:55 ET, but the move was short-lived and no follow-through materialized. Today's action followed mixed trading overseas, with strength in Asia being offset by modestly weaker performance in major European markets. Notably, Greece's ASE Index rose 5.6% on the EU debt backstop. While the S&P 500 is slightly higher on the week, market volatility picked up a bit on the late-week pullbacks. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) rose above 18 today, up ~2 points from last we ek's 22-month low near 16. The rise in the VIX indicates increased expectations for near-term volatility. This modest rise in the VIX also comes ahead of next week's full slate of economic data, which could cause greater fluctuations in the market. Interestingly, the big economic event of next week -- Friday's (4/2) March employment report -- will take place on a day when the stock market is closed for the Good Friday holiday. The bond market will be open however, and the current expectation is for a +190K increase in Nonfarm Payrolls. 
 
Prior to the week-end employment report, data on Personal Income and Spending (Monday), Consumer Confidence (Tuesday), ADP Employment Change (Wednesday) and Weekly Jobless Claims and ISM (Thursday), will all be released earlier in the week. In addition to an abundance of economic data, there are a few earnings of interest next week, with bigger names including fertilizer company Mosaic (MOS) and Blackberry maker Research In Motion (RIMM), whic h are both due out Wednesday after the close.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

US Market Commentary (After Market Close): Stocks Drift After Sentiment Survey Disappoints

Stocks set a fractionally improved 52-week high in the early going, but then spent the rest of the session stuck in a choppy sideways trade as a disappointing consumer sentiment survey weighed on the mood of participants.

Momentum from four straight gains helped position stocks for a positive start this morning. A weaker dollar also helped -- it traded with a marked loss for the entire session as the euro and British pound garnered support amid news that industrial production in Europe spiked a sharper-than-expected 1.7% in January. A recommendation from analysts at Goldman Sachs to buy the euro also helped the currency. The dollar closed down 0.6%.

The positive mood in early action was further supported by a 0.3% increase in retail sales and a 0.8% increase in sales less autos during February, according to the latest Advance Retail Sales Report. Economists had expected a decline of 0.2% for total retail sales and a 0.1% increase in sales less autos for February.

However, the tone of trade was subdued by the University of Michigan's preliminary Consumer Sentiment Survey for March. It came in at 72.5, which was below the 74.0 that had been expected. Disappointment over the survey led participants to ignore a flat business inventory reading for January.

Corporate headlines did little to spur interest in the broader market. Among blue chips, Pfizer (PFE 17.08, -0.21) announced that two of its drugs failed to meet their endpoints in a study and that it has ended a late-stage trial for another drug. Pfizer weighed on the Dow for the entire session.

Fellow Dow component United Technologies (UTX 71.53, -0.51) reaffirmed its fiscal 2010 earnings outlook, which failed to provide much of a cushion relative to Wall Street's consensus forecast.

National Semiconductor (NSM 14.38, +0.04) served up better-than-expected earnings and an upside forecast, but that did little for the overall semiconductor space, which finished with a collective loss of 0.5%.

On the other hand, retailers gained 0.6% as Aeropostale (ARO 28.18, +1.13) provided leadership after the apparel retailer reported better-than-expected earnings and issued a strong forecast of its own.

Commodities saw mixed interest this session. In turn, the CRB Commodity Index finished flat. However, oil prices fell a considerable 1.1% to $81.24 per barrel. Oil prices had actually eclipsed $83 per barrel in the early going as news circulated that the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects oil demand to rise this year.

The flat finish among both commodities and stocks marked an anticlimactic close to this week's trade, though action in previous sessions combined for a considerable weekly move. The CRB Commodity Index fell 1.3% this week, while stocks settled with a 1.0% weekly gain.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

US Market Commentary (After Market Close): Stocks Settle with Varied Gains

In the absence of any broader market catalysts, financials and tech issues led the major indices to varied gains in the face of choppy trade.

This morning's mood was generally subdued, but stocks were able to stage an early advance as financials garnered support in the face of news that some Senate Democrats will propose to expand the Volker Rule with new limits on proprietary trading by banks and nonbank financial firms.

Citigroup (C 3.96, +0.14) was a strong performer amid news that it has issued a $2 billion trust preferred offering. Renowned analyst Dick Bove also issued positive comments on the stock. Meanwhile, widely-followed financial analyst Meredith Whitney gave positive grades to Visa (V 91.52, +1.37) and MasterCard (MA 249.60).

Banks were among the best overall performers in the sector as regional banks scored a 2.9% gain and diversified banks climbed 1.8%. The KBW Bank Index closed 2.2% higher.

Tech stocks also displayed relative strength, which helped take the Nasdaq Composite to a fresh 52-week high. The Nasdaq has advanced in eight of the past nine sessions, outperforming its counterparts in each of the past three sessions.

The S&P 500 has also advanced in eight of its last sessions, but it ran into resistance when it came within striking distance of its 52-week high, which was set in mid-January. Failure to push through resistance left stocks to roll over and surrender gains.

Buyers stepped in to help stocks recover from their slide, but the broad-based S&P 500 remains roughly five points shy of its high.

In the week's first dose of data, wholesale inventories for January slipped 0.2% when a 0.2% increase had been expected. Though the decline can undermine GDP, some suggested that it could be indicative of stronger-than-expected demand.

The Treasury's budget statement for February showed a deficit of $220.9 billion, which was essentially in step with the $222.0 billion consensus, but deeper than the $193.9 billion deficit that was recorded for January.

Neither the Treasury statement nor the wholesale inventory data did anything for stocks.

In a widely-watched $21 billion auction of 10-year Notes, bidders showed up in strong numbers, such that the bid -to-cover ratio was just shy of 3.5, which is well above recent averages. The indirect bid was relatively modest, though; it came in at 35.1%. The benchmark 10-year Note settled slightly lower, but that kept its yield a few basis points above 3.70%.

A mixed finish for commodities gave the CRB Commodity Index a fractional loss. Gold was a primary source of weakness -- it settled 1.3% lower at $1108.20 per ounce. Oil prices gained 0.7% to close pit trade at $82.09 per barrel. Oil prices had traded around $83 per barrel, which marked a multiweek high, in the wake of a smaller-than-expected inventory build of 1.43 billion barrels.

Trading volume on the NYSE hit its highest level in nearly two weeks by totaling 1.14 billion shares. That also put it above its 50-day moving average of 1.09 billion shares.

Advancing Sectors: Financials (+1.1%), Tech (+0.8%), Energy (+0.6%), Industrials (+0.4%), Consumer Discretionary (+0.3%), Health Care (+0.1%), Utilities (+0.1%)Declining Sectors: Consumer Staples (-0.2%), Telecom (-0.1%), Materials (-0.1%)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

US Market Commentary (After Market Close): Stocks Fail to Make it Four in a Row

Greece's long-awaited austerity plan wasn't enough for participants to forget about the fiscal troubles that still face the likes of Spain and Portugal. That left the stock market unable to sustain solid, broad-based gains.

Led by the materials sector, stocks made their way to fresh one-month highs. The materials sector had been up as much as 2.0% before it saw that gain cut in half. Still, materials saw the best gain of any major sector as a combination of momentum and a weaker dollar provided it with support.

Weakness in the greenback came as the euro and British pound rebounded from recent losses, which were frequently attributed to the fiscal woes that face the likes of Greece, Portugal, and Spain.

Greece attempted to quell concern over its fiscal health with the release of a new austerity plan that includes civil service salary cuts and a sales tax increase. Despite such plans, problems persist for Portugal and Spain. That reality caused Europe's major bourses to show little initial reaction to Greece's plans, but the continent's major averages gradually pushed higher to log strong gains.

U.S. equities were unable to mimic the move. The Dow, Nasdaq Composite, and S&P 500 each added modestly to the previous session's gains, but eventually rolled over. That ended the stock market's streak of gains at three.

The afternoon slide left the S&P 500 below the 1125 line, which many traders believe could act as a springboard for further gains if the stock market closes above it.

Economic data received little attention this session. That's essentially because participants remain cautious ahead of the official nonfarm payrolls number on Friday. Cautious trade also led to light trading volume, which failed to surpass 1 billion shares on the NYSE.

A glimpse into the payrolls report was given with the February ADP Employment Change Report, which indicated that 20,000 private payrolls were shed last month. The number was in-line with expectations and the smallest decline in one year.

Meanwhile, the ISM Services Index for February came in at 53.0, which was above the reading of 51.0 that had been widely expected and marked the highest reading since October 2007.

The Fed's Beige Book, which is largely full of anecdotal economic news, came with little surprise. It indicated that nine of the 12 Fed districts reported modest improvement in economic activity during February, while consumer spending improved slightly in many districts.

Commodities had a strong session that pushed the CRB Commodity Index back above its 50-day moving average. Oil futures prices closed 1.5% higher at $80.87 per barrel, despite a larger-than-expected weekly inventory build of 4.03 million barrels. Silver had another strong session and closed with a 1.6% gain at $17.33 per ounce.
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