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After the Close - The U.S. stock market opened higher this morning, slumped a bit at midday, but managed to firm up somewhat in the late afternoon. At the close of the session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 91 points; the broader S&P 500 Index was higher by eight points; and the NASDAQ, which has been a bit weak lately, managed to tack on eight points, as well. Market breadth showed a favorable bias to today’s session, as advancing stocks outnumbered decliners by roughly two to one on the NYSE. Several market sectors made strides. There were notable gains in the basic materials area, thanks to advances in the metals and mining issues. The energy group was also an area of strength. In contrast, some of the consumer stocks were weak today, with losses in the auto area.

Technically, the market has been a bit range bound lately. Specifically, the S&P 500 Index has been stuck between 1,840 and 1,880. The consolidation that has taken place through the month of March is not entirely unexpected, given the large advances that equities have logged in the month of February. Certainly, for traders a sideways and choppy market can be frustrating, but so far, there has been no pronounced selling. The VIX traded lower by about 7%, to just over 14, today, suggesting sentiment was supportive.

Investors received a few economic reports this morning. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index came in at 82.3 for the month of March, which was quite a bit better than had been widely expected. Meanwhile, new home sales came in at 440,000 units, annualized, for the month of February, which was lighter than had been anticipated.

Meanwhile, we received a small batch of earnings releases to sift through this morning. Shares of Walgreen’s (WAG) were trading higher, as the drug store operator put out a mixed report. We also heard from Carnival (CCL). That stock was off, after the cruise operator issued disappointing guidance. - 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 have turned mixed today after being up sharply at the start of trading. Heading into the noon hour on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 50 points but the NASDAQ is now modestly in the red. Market breadth shows winners are still ahead of losers by a 4-to-3 margin on the New York Stock Exchange.

This morning’s economic news proved mildly supportive. In housing, although the Case-Schiller home price index showed some very modest slippage on a monthly basis in January, a 13.2% annual gain was an encouraging sign. Home prices remain 20% below their 2006 peak, so it would seem there is further room for price gains in the coming years. And while new-home sales fell 3.3% in February, the figure was roughly in line with expectations and may have been influenced by poor weather.

Meanwhile, a strong reading on consumer confidence for March lifted traders’ spirits. The 82.3 reading was the best since January 2008, or just after the last recession began, and lends support to the notion that the economy will pick up when the weather improves.

Also apparently helping is an easing of concerns, at least for today, of tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Stocks in Europe moved broadly higher on that feeling.

Among individual stocks, shares of Walgreen (WAG) are rallying a bit after the drugstore chain reported higher same-store sales and noted that it would close 76 stores, although earnings were not especially notable. Elsewhere, the stock of McCormick (MCO) is moving up after the spice maker reported better-than-expected quarterly profits. On the down side, the shares of Carnival (CCL) are off a bit after the cruise line operator offered up a current-quarter outlook that was below analysts’ estimates.

As for the broader market sectors, the basic materials group is outperforming, partly as a result of a brokerage report that suggested scrap steel prices have bottomed out. That news has provided a lift for the stock of U.S. Steel (X).

Heading into afternoon trading, the bulls are not as energetic as they were at the opening bell. There is a feeling among market watchers that it may come down to the last half hour of trading as to the strength of conviction on the part of buyers. - Robert Mitkowski

At the time this article was written, the author had a position in Walgreen.

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Stocks to Watch from The Survey There is some news on the earnings front this morning, and the biggest winner appears to be Sonic Corp. (SONC). Indeed, the restaurant operator’s stock is up nicely ahead of the bell, thanks to better-than-expected February-period earnings. Shares of pharmacy chain Walgreen (WAG) are also moving higher in the premarket on earnings news, while spice maker McCormick & Co. (MKC) delivered solid February-quarter financials, as well.

In other news, Internet giant Google (GOOG) has teamed up with eyewear manufacturer Luxottica (LUX) to develop new versions of its Internet-connected “Google Glasses”. Both stocks are indicating slightly higher openings this morning. – 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 started the new week off on a decidedly bearish note, although a mere look at the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average does not tell the entire story. That is because after beginning the day nicely higher, with an early morning push up to a gain of some 75 points in that venerable index, the Dow pulled back abruptly in mid-morning, and at one point had sunk to a loss of more than 85 points.

However, it was the other indexes that took the brunt of the selling. To wit, the tech-heavy NASDAQ, pummeled by a sizable retreat in the shares of Internet search engine Google (GOOG), was off by some 85 points, or better than 2%, at its late-morning nadir. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index, the S&P 400 (the major mid-cap benchmark), and the small-cap Russell 2000 also suffered notable losses at one point, with each finally ending the session off of their respective lows, but still closing out the first trading day of the week well into the red.         

The main depressant yesterday was weaker-than-expected manufacturing data out of China and Europe. Worries that the former country, now an economic powerhouse and the second largest global economic player in the world, would suffer a slowdown in growth were apparently rekindled by that report. In Europe, meantime, where the exit from recession has been slow and uneven, such surveys again awaken fears of a possible double-dip recession. Whatever the verdict here, the situation on the Continent is rife with uncertainty, not only from an economic point of view, but also from a geopolitical perspective in light of the spreading conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 

Among the individual and group casualties yesterday, we saw a further sharp pullback in the price of gold, with the precious metal falling by nearly 2% on the day. Also, a number of drug stocks hit the skids yesterday, following Friday's setback in the biotech area. All told, losing issues swamped winning stocks on the Big Board by about a five-to-three ratio; the spread on the NASDAQ was materially worse, with a near three-to-one plurality of losing stocks over gaining equities.

Now, looking ahead to a new day, we find that shares in Asia were mixed overnight, while they are strongly higher in Europe so far this morning, with gains on the order of one percent, or more, for the principal bourses on the Continent. And over here, our futures are pointing to a gain of more than eight points in the S&P 500 Index futures and an advance of some 15 points in the NASDAQ futures, suggesting that we could well be seeing another of those Monday-Tuesday reversals on Wall Street that we have noted in the past on a number of occasions.

As to other influences today, in addition to the global situation, we will be getting data on new home sales and consumer confidence this morning at 10:00 (EDT). A modest decline in the former is the forecast, while the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is expected to have inched up a bit this month. - Harvey S. Katz

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