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After The Close - The U.S. stock market got off to a sluggish start earlier today, but managed to firm up later in the session. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 74 points; the broader S&P 500 Index ended up nine points; and the technology-heavy NASDAQ was ahead 27 points. Market breadth was favorable, as advancing stocks outnumbered decliners by a solid margin on the NYSE. Most of the market sectors made progress. There were notable gains in the in the consumer stocks, as the gaming issues made headway. The basic materials issues also performed well, helped by strength in the coal and metals names. In contrast, there was some weakness in the utility sector.

Technically, the stock market has been consolidating over the past few days, after staging a large advance earlier in the month. Meanwhile, with today’s move higher, the S&P 500 Index moved back above the important 1,850 level, showing that the bulls are not to be counted out just yet. Further, the VIX retreated slightly, to just over 14, suggesting that sentiment may be improving a bit.

Investors received some mixed economic news this morning. Durable goods orders declined slightly during the month of January. However, the current month’s result was a bit better than many had anticipated. Meanwhile, the employment situation did not show dramatic improvement. Specifically, initial jobless claims came in at 348,000 for the week ended February 22nd, which was a bit higher than had been expected. Elsewhere, traders were likely pleased with Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s remarks, and likely relieved to learn that there was no shift in the direction of the lead bank’s stance.

In corporate news, there are a few earnings reports issued worth mentioning. Shares of J.C. Penney (JCP) traded higher after the retailer put out better-than-expected figures. Also, on a related note, Best Buy (BBY) stock was up earlier in the day, as that electronics retailer company put out a better-than-anticipated earnings release. Nonetheless, the stock retreated by the close of trading. - Adam Rosner

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

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12:10 PM EST - Stocks are in modestly positive territory right around the noon hour on the East Coast. Specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 33 points and the NASDAQ is ahead by 12 points. As for the broader market, advancers hold an 8 to 5 edge over decliners on the New York Stock Exchange.

This morning’s economic data had a limited effect on market sentiment, with initial weekly jobless claims rising moderately, but with a smaller-than-expected decline in the closely watched durable goods orders statistic, in this case for January. Much of the business data is being discounted these days, owing to poor weather.

There is also a bit of uncertainty in the air with respect to what is happening in the Ukraine, and Russia’s response to the change in government there. That uneasiness, combined with the largely uninspiring economic news, is pushing yields on government bonds slightly lower. The yield, which moves inversely to prices, on the 10-year Treasury note, is down to 2.65% from 2.67%. Yields on the 10-year T-note were flirting with 3.00% at the beginning of 2014.

Among individual companies, shares of J.C. Penney (JCP) are making a nice percentage move higher on heavy volume after the struggling retailer reported a narrower-than-expected loss in its fiscal fourth quarter and said it expected a 3%-5% increase in same-store sales in the current quarter. Penney’s stores are a fixture in malls across America.

Shares of a couple of other retailers, Best Buy (BBY) and Sears Holdings (SHLD) are also trading to the upside. Although Best Buy reported lower fourth-quarter sales, owing to lackluster holiday-season sales, its profits topped analyst’s estimates. Meantime, Sears was able to narrow its quarterly loss from a year earlier as a result of its cost-reduction efforts, which has apparently impressed the investment community.

Elsewhere, high-flying Tesla Motors (TSLA) stock is taking a breather after a big run earlier this week. The electric car company made a splash when it announced plans to open a $5 billion lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility by 2017. There is optimism that such a large-scale facility will drive down the cost of batteries in electric cars, presumably making the vehicles more affordable. But even if that proves to be the case, the stock is changing hands at such an elevated valuation that it has to be considered a speculation.  

Heading into the afternoon session, stocks are enjoying a mild upswing, but it is not a slam dunk for the bulls. -Robert Mitkowski

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

Stocks to Watch from The Survey Retailers, many with fiscal years that end in January, are in the earnings spotlight today, headlined by J.C. Penney (JCP). Indeed, shares of the department store operator are soaring ahead of the bell, after the company reported January-period results that were not as bad as feared. Investors also took kindly to quarterly reports from industry peers Kohl’s (KSS) and Sears Holdings (SHLD), as well as electronics seller Best Buy (BBY) and Victoria’s Secret parent L Brands (LB), all of which are moving higher in pre-market trading. Other stocks indicating higher openings on earnings news include China-based Internet company Baidu (BIDU), drugmaker Mylan Inc. (MYL), and design-software developer Autodesk (ADSK).

On the other hand, Wall Street was not keen on quarterly financials and/or outlooks from hotel operator Hilton (HLT) and quick-service restaurant chain Wendy’s (WEN). – 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, following Monday's impressive gains, which were highlighted by a triple-digit increase in the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average, has largely marked time over the past two sessions. On point, Tuesday saw a narrow decline in most of the key equity averages, while yesterday saw some early strength, but a modest selloff in the early afternoon. By the close, the key indexes held grudging gains, having overcome some very modest late-afternoon selling.

All told, the aforementioned Dow rose 19 points; the NASDAQ added just over four points; and the Standard and Poor's 500 Index was at the breakeven mark. The small- and mid-cap names did proportionately better, suggesting a firmer aggregate tone to the trading day.

Among the principal influences on this cold late-February day in New York were a much better-than-forecast showing in the housing market and generally solid results from many retailers, a strong Treasury note auction, and an uneven reception for some late fourth-quarter reporting companies. Specifically, sales of new homes rose strongly in January, in a surprise, as most pundits had expected another soft showing due to the weather. In all, such sales increased to an annualized rate of 468,000 homes last month, which was well above both the December level and the consensus forecast for the latest month of just 401,000 homes. Good news on the fourth-quarter profit front from some of the nation's key retailers also helped equity market sentiment in yesterday's trading session.

At the same time, Treasury prices rose after successful government debt auctions, as the market awaits signs there is still plenty of underlying strength in the economy, the current weather-induced sloppiness notwithstanding… In all, the 10-year Treasury note saw its yield dip back below 2.70%, to just over 2.67%, while the yield on the companion 30-year Treasury bond eased back down to just a shade under 3.64%.

As noted, the latest session also saw some encouraging quarterly metrics from some department store behemoths, notably Target (TGT). That issue, which had fallen back from $73.50 a share to just under $55, before rallying yesterday to back just above the $60-a-share level. Also performing well in the latest session was building supplies retailer Lowe's (LOW), which rose back over $50 a share on encouraging results and an increase in the dividend.

Overall, though, it continues to be a waiting game for Wall Street, as traders and investors await the arrival of spring to ascertain whether the recent overall softness in the economic numbers, which could well lead to GDP growth of just 1%-2% this quarter, is simply a weather event or something more serious. We sense that it is largely the former. Should the situation be more complex, or the weakness continue into the spring, the result on Wall Street might not be pleasant. For now, however, we would tend to give the psychological edge to the resilient bulls, who have held the higher ground, with just a few interruptions, for more than five years.

Looking ahead, the latest performances from overseas show an aggregate decline in Asia overnight, while in Europe this morning, the bears have a clear edge. Rising tension in the strife-torn Ukraine region is leading the current concerns. In addition to weaker stocks overseas, the prices of gold and silver are rising this morning on those worries. As to our futures, they have trimmed their earlier losses and now suggest just a small downtick at the start of the trading day, which commences 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.