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After The Close - The U.S. stock market got off to a weak start this morning, following steep losses in Europe, but managed to pare the red ink through the afternoon. Some of the weakness earlier today may have been due to concerns about the ongoing political problems between Russia and Ukraine. Specifically, conflicting reports of military maneuvers in the region did not help matters. Meanwhile, by the close of the session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 42 points; the broader S&P 500 Index was off three points; and the technology-laden NASDAQ was lower by 12 points. The market was modestly lower on balance, as declining stocks slightly outnumbered advancers on the NYSE. Too, several market sectors lost ground today, with notable weakness in the basic materials area. The energy group also traded lower. Meanwhile, the high-yielding utilities bucked the downtrend, as investors may have been feeling more conservative.

As was the case yesterday, traders may have taken a break to digest the gains logged over the past few weeks. Too, many market participants may be hesitant about holding positions through the upcoming three-day holiday weekend. Nonetheless, there was little panic selling today, and the fact that stocks were able to end well off their session lows demonstrates some resilience.

Meanwhile, traders shrugged off some constructive economic news this morning. Specifically, initial jobless claims came in at 298,000 for the week ended August 23rd. This figure was better than many had expected, and was also below the widely-watched 300,000 mark. Elsewhere, according to the most recent revision, second- quarter GDP showed the economy expanding by 4.2%, annualized, which was quite impressive. Elsewhere, the housing market looks to be recovering, too, as pending home sales rose 3.3% in July.

Finally, the corporate reports issued today were mixed. To wit, Williams-Sonoma (WSM) shares tumbled, after the upscale home retailer put out decent results, but provided a weak outlook. Also, Guess (GES) stock slipped, after the apparel retailer issued a discouraging report. - 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 - Stocks are broadly lower today, as deflating economic and geopolitical news out of Europe is trumping strong business data stateside. Just past the noon hour on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off 57 points, while the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 are lower to the tune of 10 and four points, respectively. Market breadth is consistent with the negative tone of the major averages, with decliners well ahead of advancing issues  on both the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ.

The blame for the market’s mini-selloff today certainly can’t be laid at the feet of the United States’ economy, which advanced at an upwardly revised 4.2% in the second quarter. That would be a solid number for any developed nation. Usually, only the emerging markets offer periods of sustainably higher GDP growth than the U.S. exhibited in the second quarter.

There was good news out of the Labor Department, as well, with the reported number of initial weekly unemployment claims holding under 300,000. A slight rise had been expected.

Overriding the positive tidings on this side of the Atlantic, though, is yet another escalation in tensions between Ukraine and Russia. News reports have Ukraine claiming that Russian troops have crossed the border into its nation. That boosts the potential for military clashes and civilian casualties.

Helping to tip sentiment into bearish territory are weak economic data hinting at deflation in several euro zone nations. A number of Europe’s major stock markets were down sharply today as a result, and the euro fell to its lowest level in about a year.

Of course, the negativity and uncertainty arising from Europe’s troubles has helped fuel the bond market. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note is down to a slim 2.34% today, from 2.36% at yesterday’s close, with bond prices moving higher. The dip in yield wouldn’t normally be consistent with strong economic data stateside, but Europe’s woes are apparently being accorded greater weight.

On the plus side, the strength in bonds is underpinning support for utility stocks. The utility sector is the only one of the market’s major groups trading to the upside today. Moreover, the downtick in long-term interest rates this year is providing fresh support for the housing market.

Heading into the afternoon session, stock are off their lowest levels of the day, but the bears remain in charge. - Robert Mitkowski

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

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Stocks to Watch from The SurveyRetailers continue to dominate the earnings spotlight, although the latest batch of reports was not very encouraging. The biggest disappointment appeared to come from Williams-Sonoma (WSM), a seller of goods for the kitchen and the home, which reported in-line July-period results but issued guidance that did not live up to investors’ expectations. WSM stock is down sharply ahead of the bell, in response. Shares of apparel retailers Guess (GES) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), along with footwear company Genesco (GCO), are also moving notably lower in the premarket on earnings news, while the stock of discounter Dollar General (DG) is off just slightly. 

One of the few bright spots came from the jeweler Signet (SIG), which reported solid July-period results and issued an upbeat outlook. SIG stock is indicating a moderately higher opening this morning, as a result. – 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 strove for direction yesterday, as sparse economic news, a brief diminution of tensions on the global front, and continuing low trading volume, as the last weeks of a listless summer roll on, combined to produce an in-and-out session for much of the day on Wall Street. Overall, the larger-cap indexes held their own, while the smaller-cap stocks labored a little, but avoided any serious damage. However, in contrast to most recent days, stocks did wilt a little towards the close, although a last-minute push did enable the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average to conclude the midweek session slightly in the plus column, with a gain of 15 points.

Overall, it was a lackluster, and rather underwhelming, middle-of-the-week showing, as stocks held their recent gains, but did not make any appreciable headway. However, the Dow Jones Industrial Average did manage to outdistance the Standard and Poor's 500 Index, as well as the S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the small-cap Russell 2000. With regard to the latter two, this has been the pattern more often than not of late. Still, even the blue-chip Dow did not excite the bulls, failing to set another all-time high, but managing to hold comfortably above 17,000.

As to economic news, there was very little of it, as was the case on Monday, with the intervening session breaking this string, with mixed data on durable goods orders and a slightly more constructive survey on consumer confidence. Going forward, the business beat will pick up noticeably. To wit, we have just seen the first revision to second-quarter GDP (see below) and the latest weekly happenings on the jobless claims front (more below). These issuances will be followed tomorrow morning by reports on personal income (where an increase of 0.3% is forecast), consumer spending (where an uptick of 0.2% is the overall expectation), consumer sentiment, and the Chicago-area purchasing managers. 

Then, after the Labor Day weekend, we will see the new month usher in reports on U.S. manufacturing, vehicle sales, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book (a summary of the U.S. economic outlook and present conditions across the country), the balance of trade, non-manufacturing activity, and the monthly report on employment and unemployment. Several of those pending issuances, most notably the statistics on manufacturing and employment, can be market movers.   

As to yesterday's action, as noted, it was a dull session, but with a modest downward bias toward the close, as the major averages, save for the Dow and the S&P 500 Index (which was flat), ended up slightly in the minus column. As to a breakdown of the major equity groups, we find that seven of the 10 separate equity groups showed gains today, although only the high-yielding telecoms and utilities are worthy of note. At the same time, there were a few more stocks up than down on the Big Board, with the roughly seven-to-six edge largely reversed on the tech-laden NASDAQ. All in all, there was little to get excited about yesterday, and from the outlook of things, but there are some market headlines being made today, and not of a pleasant nature.

Not surprisingly, therefore, there was a downward bias to the trading in Asia overnight, while the principal bourses in Europe are tracking sizably to the downside so far this morning, pulled lower by a renewal of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, with the latter calling for a U.N. meeting to discuss the suddenly eroding situation. Also on the Continent, there are concerns about deflation once again, a report also showed no improvement in Germany's employment situation, and a survey just issued noted a pullback in the euro-zone confidence levels.

Finally, our futures, too, are headed notably lower on international worries. Regarding second-quarter GDP data, this just-issued report saw an upwardly revised increase of 4.2% in that key metric. Initially, the recent period's growth had been estimated at 4.0%. Please note that the third and final GDP report is set for release in about a month from now. At the same time, estimated weekly jobless claims edged down nominally to 298,000. Expectations had been for filings to come in at 300,000 for this latest seven-day stretch, so there was no material surprise. In all, the economy remains in good shape.   Harvey S. Katz 

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