After The Close - It was a winning week on Wall Street for those long equities, but that is not to say it was all easy sledding for the bulls. Notable moves higher were partially offset by a few sizable pullbacks. Specifically, a sharp drop on Wednesday afternoon—prompted by somewhat hawkish comments from Federal Reserve officials following an FOMC meeting that saw the central bank slice another $10 billion off of its monthly asset purchases—and some selling in the second half of today’s session (more below), which may have been driven by some volatility on the day futures options contracts were set to expire—pared some of the early week gains. The successful showing for equities earlier this week was driven by easing concerns about the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe—though that situation remains very fluid and can change on a dime—and some decent economic data stateside. For the five-day stretch, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index were up 1.4%, 0.7%, and 1.4%, respectively.

As for today’s session, at first blush it would look like a clear victory for the bears, especially with the pickup in selling later in day. At the final bell, the Dow, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index were 26, 43, and five points lower, respectively. The S&P Mid-Cap 400 Index was little changed. However, the advance/decline line showed that today’s performance for equities was a bit more mixed than what it looked like from the averages. Thus, on the Big Board, advancers led decliners by a decent margin, even with the late-day selling narrowing the spread. Conversely, losing issues outpaced winners on the NASDAQ.

From a sector perspective, we did have some mixed performances among the top-10 groups, though the down arrows did outnumber the up ones. On the plus side, were the issues that saw some profit taking earlier in the week, including the basic materials, energy, and utilities. The financials were little changed on a day when mostly positive stress test results for the banks were released. Meantime, the healthcare, technology, and the telecom stocks were out of favor—and were big reasons for the outsized losses for the NASDAQ. In the healthcare space, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical stocks were pummeled, with the aforementioned quadruple witching responsible for a good deal of the setback. “Quadruple Witching” sessions are the four days in the year in which derivative traders exercise their in the money options and take delivery on their futures contracts as well as traders practicing arbitrage. The four “Quadruple Witching” days of the year—the third Fridays of March, June, September, and December—can make for very volatile sessions, which definitely seemed to be the case today.  

The noteworthy news today came from Corporate America, as the business beat was very quiet. Much of the corporate news was earnings driven. Shares of high-end retailer Tiffany (TIF) fell after the company posted weaker-than-expected results and issued a cautious outlook for 2014. The stock of Dow-30 component NIKE (NKE Free Nike Stock Report) slipped despite posting strong quarterly results, as investors concentrated on the apparel giant’s outlook. In non-earnings news, the shares of Symantec (SYMC) fell sharply after reports surfaced that the technology company’s CEO was fired late last night. Also, the stock of Western Union (WU) fell after reports surfaced that payment services company has suspended dealings with Russian bank Rossiya, given the geopolitical turmoil between Russia and Ukraine. 

Looking ahead to next week, trading is likely to be driven by both the ongoing developments in Ukraine and a slew of U.S. economic reports. On the latter front, we will get data on personal income and spending, new home sales, consumer confidence, durable goods orders, consumer sentiment, and the final reading on fourth-quarter GDP.   -  William G. Ferguson

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


12:30 P.M. EDT - The U.S. stock market opened higher this morning, and is largely adding to its gains, with some exceptions. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 110 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is higher by nine points; but the NASDAQ is off slightly. However, market breadth suggests some underlying strength to the session, as advancing stocks are ahead of decliners by a wide margin on the NYSE. Also, quite a few market sectors are making large strides, which is encouraging. Specifically, the energy issues are doing well. Crude oil is up over 1%, to over $100 a barrel, and that may be playing a role here. Also, the basic materials sector is advancing, helped by gains in the metals issues. In contrast, the healthcare area is quite weak, as the biotechnology issues are seeing some selling.

Technically, the market has been showing resilience lately. Today’s move higher puts the S&P 500 Index at a new high ground. Specifically, the broad index reached 1,884 at one point this morning. Further, trading volumes picked up a bit yesterday, which was constructive. It is also interesting to note that the market has been showing some strength, despite mixed news items. For instance, traders seem willing to look past the Federal Reserve’s suggestion that interest rates could move higher next year. Also, Russia’s military moves in Ukraine do not seem to be posing a major stumbling block, at this time. This may suggest that sentiment is really quite bullish. The VIX is trading about 5% lower, to just under 14, today.

Investors received no notable economic reports this morning. We will start next week off on a quiet note, as well, with limited reports due out on Monday.

Meanwhile, we received a few notable earnings releases. Shares of NIKE (NKE - Free Nike Stock Report) are trading lower, after the sneaker manufacturer issued decent quarterly results, but provided lackluster guidance. Tiffany (TIF) stock is trading slightly higher, though, even though some were not happy with the company’s guidance. But, things are not going as well for Symantec (SYMC). That stock is lower after the technology company announced the departure of its CEO. - Adam Rosner

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


Stocks to Watch from The Survey – This trading week is ending with a flurry of earnings reports, many of which were disappointing. The most high-profile release came from athletic footwear, apparel, and accessories giant NIKE (NKEFree NIKE Stock Report). The Dow-30 component’s headline numbers were solid, but investors appeared to take issue with other aspects of the release, possibly management’s comments that foreign currency headwinds would likely hamper profits in the near term. NKE stock is trading moderately lower ahead of the bell, as a result. Quarterly results and/or outlooks from jeweler Tiffany & Co. (TIF) and restaurant operator Darden (DRI) met with cool receptions on Wall Street, as well, and both equities are indicating modestly lower openings when trading begins. It was not all bad, however, and shares of software developer TIBCO (TIBX) are moving slightly higher in the premarket after releasing February-period results.

In other news, the stock of Symantec (SYMC) is down sharply ahead of the bell, after the security software company fired its CEO, Steve Bennett. In a statement, Symantec said the decision was “not precipitated by any event or impropriety” and reaffirmed its guidance. Investors, however, were clearly not reassured by these words. Finally, shares of women’s apparel and accessories retailer ANN INC. (ANN) are up nicely in pre-market trading, on news that private-equity firm Golden Gate Capital has amassed a 9.5% stake in the company. – 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 got out of the starting gate quickly this week, scoring back-to-back big wins on Monday and Tuesday, and went into the Federal Reserve's FOMC meeting's conclusion on Wednesday with a nice head of steam. However, those good feelings did not last--at least for one day--as a decision by the central bank to do some further asset tapering caused some sellers to re-appear. But more than the reduction in bond buying, which was generally expected, were comments by new Fed Chair Janet Yellen to the effect that she believed short-term interest rates, which have been at near zero levels for several years, would start to go up by the middle of 2015, or some six months after the Fed bond-tapering program presumably concludes. 

Now, that was not big news, as this has been pretty much the consensus view right along. As such, it was not the so-called "rookie mistake" that some pundits have suggested, forgetting the fact that Ms. Yellen had been the Vice Chair of the central bank for a number of years. But still, seeing this indication out there at this time was somewhat disenchanting to the bulls, and stocks faltered in the hours following the Fed meeting's conclusion. This pullback then extended over to the first half hour yesterday, with data showing a small uptick in initial jobless claims and sluggish sales of existing homes in February, neither of which helped sentiment.

However, the data issuances also included a report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve showing that manufacturing activity in the greater Philadelphia area was stronger than expected. The better manufacturing tone helped to turn sentiment on a dime, and stocks, which were off modestly at 10:00 AM (EDT), as that report was released, quickly erased those losses and sprinted ahead to a formidable gain. By lunch time on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was enjoying a triple-digit-point gain, while the NASDAQ, albeit higher, as well, lagged that blue chip composite on a percentage basis, as it would do throughout the session. As to the Philly Fed, its manufacturing gauge rebounded to a reading of +9.0 in March from -6.3 in February. The March turnaround put this index roughly in line with where it was in January.

Stocks then held their gains into the mid-afternoon, with Ms. Yellen's musings the day before seemingly no longer a big factor in the market's behavior. In truth, as we inferred above, she really broke little new ground, and investors, already skittish in the wake of the contentious situation in Ukraine and Crimea, do not require much to set off a new round of selling. Whatever the case, the averages continued to show decent strength for much of the balance of the day, with just a few hiccups along the way, which for a time pared the best gains, before the market steadied late in the session.

In all, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 109 points; at the day's peak that composite had been up by just over 130 points. The S&P 500 Index was ahead 11 points and the NASDAQ was better by 12 points. The S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the small-cap Russell 2000 were up just modestly. Most of the 30 Dow stocks were higher, as that blue-chip composite was the best performer on the day. Among the better Dow gainers were a pair of recently weak stocks, notably tech mogul International Business Machines (IBM Free IBM Stock Report) and telecommunications giant AT&T (T Free AT&T Stock Report). On the whole, though, it was a day of modest improvement, save for the Dow Industrials.

Now, we conclude the week, and overnight we saw stocks turn mixed in Asia, with some notable backtracking in Japan, while they are gaining nicely in Europe so far this morning, led by Germany's DAX. And on our shores, following yesterday's mild comeback, the equity futures are pointing to additional gains, with about a half hour to go before the start of the new trading day. Finally, it will be a day of no material economic releases, so there are any number of things that could catch Wall Street's eye, from the Fed to the geopolitical situation in Europe, to earnings, which are still coming out, albeit just in small numbers. Of note, athletic shoe retailer NIKE (NKE Free Nike Stock Report), which also is a component of the Dow Industrials, is indicating a lower opening, even though it met profit expectations. However, it did express some caution going forward. - Harvey S. Katz

At the time of this article's writing, the author had a position in T.