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Market Close - The U.S. stock market put in an uneven, but ultimately constructive session today. It should be noted that today’s performance followed significant gains logged earlier this week, which makes it somewhat impressive. At the close of the session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was ahead 40 points; the broader S&P 500 Index was up five points; and the NASDAQ added on eight points. Market breadth was slightly favorable, as advancing stocks were just ahead of decliners on the NYSE. Most of the market sectors made progress. There was leadership in the basic materials issues, as the mining names advanced. The energy stocks, too, performed well. In contrast, the technology shares lagged today. Further, utilities were weak.

Technically, today’s move put the S&P 500 Index at a record high level. From here, 1,900 is in sight and will likely represent the next bullish target. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen, if the broad index will be able to sustain this move without falling back into the trading range that it had been locked in during the month of March. Notably, the Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to act well, too. Meanwhile, the NASDAQ, which had been a bit weak, is also now above its 50-day moving average, and may soon join the other averages in the move higher. The VIX was relatively unchanged today at just above 13, which is a very low level, and suggests a degree of complacency on the part of traders.

Economic data were constructive today, but that did not seem to bother traders. The ADP Employment report showed 191,000 private sectors jobs were added to the economy in March. This was ahead of the prior month’s reading. Employment news will be front and center, as we get the weekly jobless claims figures tomorrow, followed by the Government’s Employment report on Friday. Meanwhile, factory orders increased 1.6% in February, which was ahead of expectations.

Traders received a few corporate reports today. Monsanto (MON) shares were up, as investors were pleased with that release. Tomorrow, we will hear from semiconductor giant Micron (MU). - 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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12:10 PM EDT - Investors appear to be taking a bit of a breather after two bullish sessions to start the trading week. Indeed, the broader S&P 500 Index hit a new intraday all-time high yesterday and the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished within 56 points of its record high. Still, both of those indexes are slightly higher today and are now edging ever-so close to eclipsing their high-level marks. The tech-heavy NASDAQ, which has rallied thus far this week after a rough five-day stretch last week, is also modestly higher, despite a lackluster showing from some technology names.

From a sector perspective, leadership is coming from the industrial and basic materials stocks. Within the industrial space, shares of the construction equipment makers are in demand; Caterpillar (CAT Free Caterpillar Stock Report) stock is the best performing Dow-30 member so far today.  This is not all that surprising given yesterday’s healthy report on manufacturing activity from the Institute for Supply Management and the better-than-expected data on manufacturing orders issued this morning. Specifically, the Commerce Department reported that new orders for manufactured goods rose 1.6% in February after two-consecutive monthly declines. We also received so data on the labor market. At 8:15 A.M. (EDT), payroll processing giant Automatic Data Processing (ADP) reported that 191,000 private-sector jobs were created in March, up sharply from February, which was hurt by severe winter weather across a good portion of the country. More encouraging, the jobs gains were broadbased across may industries and business classes, particularly the smaller-business area.

Meantime, there seems to be some rotation in play these days. The big loser so far this week (and once again today) is the utilities sector. That group has been in the red the last two-plus sessions, hurt by investors showing more appetite for risk and by the recent uptick in interest rates. The latter—the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.80% earlier today, its highest mark since January 22nd—makes fixed-income a slightly more attractive alternative to higher-yielding equities for income-stressing accounts.  The utilities have company in the red, as the technology stocks are succumbing to some mild profit taking. Speaking of technology, investors are keeping a close eye on the stock of Amazon.com (AMZN). The online retailing giant, which is hosting a conference in New York City today, just minutes ago unveiled a streaming box, FireTV, which is three times faster than both RoKu’s streaming player and Apple’s (AAPL) Apple TV. 

Looking ahead to the second half of the session, the bulls once again appear to trying to seize control of trading. The spread between advancing and declining issues, which was razor thin to start the trading day, has now tilted in favor of the former on the Big Board. The split remains quite even on the NASDAQ, owing to the lackluster showing from technology. Overall, our sense is that the improvement in manufacturing activity and a decent report on the labor market today are giving investors a bit more confidence that the economy is moving in the right direction. This sentiment may well drive trading over the next few sessions, especially with first-quarter earnings season more than a week from beginning in earnest. Investors should note that the latest report from the government on nonfarm payrolls and the nation’s unemployment rate is due this Friday. That data could be a gamer changer for market participants, and should be closely scrutinized by investors.  - 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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Stocks to Watch from The Survey There is some earnings news to be aware of today. University of Phoenix parent Apollo Group (APOL) delivered a mixed February-period report, as earnings were better-than-expected, but revenues missed the mark. Investors appear to be focusing on the top line, and the equity is trading moderately lower in the premarket, as a result. February-quarter financials from agricultural products giant Monsanto (MON) garnered a warmer reception on Wall Street, and the stock is moving slightly higher ahead of the bell, in response. Conversely, shares of Agrium (AGU) are indicating a lower opening today, after the fertilizer and potash producer issued guidance that did not live up to investors’ expectations. 

One of this morning’s biggest winners appears to be Myriad Genetics (MYGN), a leader in genetic testing. Indeed, the stock is up sharply in pre-market trading, on news that Medicare payments for the company’s testing kits will not be cut as much as previously thought. Elsewhere on the corporate front, smartphone developer BlackBerry (BBRY) has decided not to renew its licensing deal with telecommunications company T-Mobile US (TMUS). Hence, the carrier will stop selling BlackBerry products when their current deal ends later this month. The news does not seem to be phasing investors, 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.

Before The Bell - An in-and-out first quarter ended with a flourish, and the June period has begun on a high note, as well. On point, after concluding the March period with a triple-digit-point advance for the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday, Wall Street eschewed the temptation for another Monday-Tuesday reversal yesterday by tallying yet one more clear win for the bulls.

True, the latest gain did not have the flashiness of the Monday advance, which had seen the Dow gain 135 points on the session and the small- and mid-cap indexes do even better proportionately. But, the latest session, while a more muted affair for the Dow and several other composites, was actually stronger for the tech-laden NASDAQ than it was on Monday. Specifically, that index had risen by 43 points to start the week, but it surged by an even more impressive 69 points yesterday. The Dow, though, added on a more modest, but still rather formidable, 75 points. Still, this was an invigorating one-two punch to end one quarter and begin a second one.

Helping the market yesterday, in addition to the lingering effects of the constructive interest-rate suggestions made by new Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen the day before, was a decent further increase in U.S. manufacturing activity, a slight uptick in construction spending, and generally decent March auto sales. The absence of any new Cold War rhetoric between an emboldened Russia and the United States over Ukraine and Crimea also helped somewhat, as did window dressing and new capital commitments to start the second quarter by the nation's mutual funds.    

Meanwhile, the suddenly busier economic beat continues today, with data due out on February factory orders. That report is due out at 10:00 AM (EDT). A solid gain is expected for that industrial category following a reversal of note to start the year. Then, tomorrow, we are due to get weekly data on initial and continuing jobless claims, the international trade gap, and, most telling, the companion report to yesterday's manufacturing survey, when the Institute for Supply Management reports on nonmanufacturing activity. The week will then conclude with the Labor Department's monthly report on job creation and the unemployment rate. That issuance, which is based on separate household surveys, is expected to show a gain of 205,000 jobs and a drop in the jobless rate from 6.7% to 6.6%. As to employment, Automatic Data Processing (ADP), the large payroll services and financial company, has issued its monthly data on private-sector job creation. And that report showed a March increase of 191,000 positions. That was a strong survey and augurs well for a possibly better-than-expected payroll increase when the government reports its results this Friday.

Meantime, following yesterday's mini-fireworks on Wall Street, we find that the key indexes have tracked somewhat higher across Asia overnight. Now, this morning, the bourses are moving ahead in Europe, led by the DAX. As to our markets, they are showing formidable strength once again in the futures, with the Standard and Poor's 500 Index futures ahead by a point, but the NASDAQ futures are gaining a strong 11 points. This would seem to presage a solid opening when traders get down to business on our shores in less than an hour from now.

Finally, we are a week away from the start of first-quarter earnings season. At this time, most signs point to an underwhelming performance by Corporate America. In fact, one survey has the companies in the S&P 500 Index coming in with an aggregate decline for the period of 0.6%. That would be the first drop in earnings since the third quarter of 2012. Thus far, the poor profit outlook has not dampened the bullish enthusiasm for equities. Perhaps, most believe that these weak indications will be easily exceeded. We shall see. - Harvey S. Katz  

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