Thursday, February 17, 2011

Market Commentary (After Market Close): Stocks Overcome Early Slip to Score Another Gain

After digesting the latest dose of data the major equity averages brushed aside some fainthearted selling to extend their climb to new two-year highs. Natural resource plays led the move for the second straight session.

There was little surprise to the initial jobless claims tally for the week ended February 12. Initial claims increased from 385,000 in the prior week to 410,000, which is in stride with the 408,000 initial claims that had been expected, on average, among economists polled by Briefing.com. Continuing claims were essentially unchanged at 3.91 million.

Consumer prices for January featured a 0.4% increase in the headline number and a 0.2% increase in the core number. The consensus among economists polled by Briefing.com had called for a 0.3% increase in total CPI and a 0.1% increase in core CPI. Prior month increases were 0.4% and 0.1%, respectively for total and core consumer prices.

The Philadelphia Fed Survey for February surged to a seven-year high of 35.9. Economists had generally expected a reading of only 21.0 after it came in at 19.3 in the prior month.

Leading Indicators for January increased by just 0.1%, which is shy of the 0.3% increase that had been widely anticipated. Indicators for December were downwardly revised to reflect a 0.8% increase.

Data did little to provide direction to morning participants, who were initially inclined to sell. It became clear, though, that there was little conviction behind the selling as stocks gradually turned modest losses into modest gains. The move reflected the broad market's bullish bias, which has helped stocks gain 10 times in the 13 sessions traded so far this month.

Materials stocks (+0.9%) and energy stocks (+0.8%) were leaders in the latest move. The two sectors also outperformed in the prior session and are now up 2.0% and 3.1% week to date, respectively.

There wasn't much news out of the materials sector, but energy plays Apache (APA 120.62, +0.11) and Pride International (PDE 40.55, +0.02) settled near the neutral line after the pair had posted quarterly results this morning. Williams Companies (WMB 30.08, +2.32) was a standout in the space after it announced better-than-expected earnings, an increased dividend, and plans to separate into two stand-alone publicly traded companies.

Semiconductors also made strong gains. NVIDIA (NVDA 25.68, +2.30) led the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index to a 1.4% gain following its latest quarterly report and forecast.

Financials failed to follow the broader market's lead this session. Instead, the sector fell to a 0.1% loss after it failed to push into positive territory on only on a few occasions. Regional banks (-1.3%) and diversified banks (-1.1%) weighed on the sector.

Advancing Sectors: Materials (+0.9%), Energy (+0.8%), Consumer Staples (+0.7%), Telecom (+0.3%), Utilities (+0.3%), Health Care (+0.3%), Tech (+0.2%), Industrials (+0.2%), Consumer Discretionary (+0.1%) Declining Sectors: Financial (-0.1%)
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