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After The Close - The U.S. equity market put in another nondescript performance today, which has become the norm in recent days. The major equity indexes got off to a good start, as news of a possible ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine calmed investors’ international concerns for a short time. The major averages were then mostly mixed for a notable stretch—with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index holding modest gains and the NASDAQ, held back by weakness in technology sector, toiling in the red—before some selling emerged in the last two hours after reports surfaced that Islamic terrorists have allegedly taken control of 11 Libyan jetliners. The advance/decline spread, which was mixed for most of the session, weakened late in the day, reflecting the bearish sentiment at the close of trading, particularly on the NASDAQ. The mid- and small-cap issues were also weak today.

The story was somewhat similar from a sector perspective. Among the top-10 groups, early gains in most of the sectors were pared somewhat by late-day selling and, in some cases, the groups finished in negative territory. The biggest laggard was technology sector, which was hurt by a weak showing from the stock of technology giant Apple (AAPL). The consumer discretionary stocks also were out of favor. Conversely, investors were buying in the energy, telecommunications, and utilities sectors—though not as much as they were earlier in the session.

We think some of the selective late-day selling was the case of investors not liking the uncertainty, which seems to be the case these days with regard to foreign affairs. The rising conflicts in the Middle East and the geopolitical tensions in Eastern Europe remain headwinds for investors, though the recent setbacks from unfavorable international reports have been rather muted.

We think that the possible downside from a deteriorating international picture is being offset by some encouraging news on the domestic front. This afternoon, we received the latest Beige Book summation of economic conditions from the Federal Reserve at 2:00 P.M. (EDT). That report did not provide any major surprises, as the central bank continued its current stance that the economy is expanding at a “modest to moderate” pace. The latest summation did not give pundits a reason to think that the Federal Reserve will change its timeline on curbing its accommodative monetary policies, which is the main reason why we think it had a minimal impact on trading. Meanwhile, we also learned that most automakers reported better-than-expected sales for August, raising expectations that annual sales could be the best in eight years.

Tomorrow, we will get a few key reports on the economy, with data due on nonmanufacturing activity, productivity, weekly unemployment claims, private-sector payroll creation, and the international trade gap. Investors should also note that the European Central Bank (ECB) will be holding its latest monetary policy meeting. The ECB’s actions or lack thereof could have an influence on the world’s equity markets. The investment community also will be keeping a close eye on the fluid situation in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. - 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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12:30 PM EDT - The U.S. stock market is putting in another mixed performance today. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 30 points; the broader S&P 500 Index is off nominally; and the technology-heavy NASDAQ is lower by 23 points. Market breadth is mixed, as declining stocks are just ahead of advancers on the NYSE. Nonetheless, some equity sectors are making progress. For example, the energy group is advancing, as the price of crude oil is trading almost 2% higher, to nearly $95 a barrel, today. Too, the utilities are having a good day. In contrast, the technology sector is losing ground, as are some of the consumer issues.

Generally, the stock market has been moving sideways for the past several sessions. Given the large run-up staged last month, a small pause may be warranted and even a healthy development. It should be noted that the small-cap names, which had fallen out of favor for some time, have started advancing once again. This is a positive indication, and may suggest that investors are feeling less risk averse.

Meanwhile, traders received little economic news today. Specifically, factory orders increased 10.5% during the month of July, falling just short of expectations. However, it should be noted that the July figure represents a large improvement when compared to June’s showing. Meanwhile, investors are likely awaiting the release of the Fed’s Beige Book summation due out at 2:00 PM (EDT) today. This issuance is followed by many market participants.

Finally, traders received quite a few corporate reports this morning. Specifically, Toll Brothers (TOL) stock is trading lower, even though the upscale home builder put out decent quarterly figures. Helen of Troy (HELE) shares are slipping, too, after the consumer products company 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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Stocks to Watch from The Survey - As the workforce settles in after the unofficial end to the summer, the market looks for direction. International conflicts and the thoughts of the Federal Reserve rule the headlines, but many individual companies are also in the news:

First and foremost, Dow-30 component and ubiquitous retailer Home Depot Inc. (HD - Free Home Depot Stock Report) is taking measures to reassure its customers that all is well after a potential data breach involving credit and debit cards was cited. The home-improvement titan is still not certain a breach occurred, but has stated via its Web site and social media accounts that even if one did, customers will not be held responsible for fraudulent charges.

On the earnings front, the housing sector is in focus this morning. Toll Brothers Inc. (TOL), a prominent homebuilder, released fiscal third-quarter results that were highlighted by profits doubling on a year-over-year basis. Home deliveries and prices each trended higher as well. The shares were up about 2% in the premarket.

Elsewhere, shares of truck maker Navistar International (NAV) were edging higher this morning after its earnings release. For its third fiscal quarter, the company posted a small loss and missed revenue targets; however, investors were pleased because expectations had been even lower.

Also, tobacco concern Altria Group Inc. (MO) affirmed its full-year 2014 per-share profit outlook of $2.54 to $2.59. That represents growth of 7% to 9% versus the year-earlier numbers. This stock was also inching up in premarket trading.

Another piece of tobacco-related news, retailer and pharmacy benefits manager CVS Caremark Corp. (CVS) is changing its moniker to CVS Health. The name alteration is to reflect the fact the company has purged cigarettes from its stores a month ahead of schedule. In February, CVS said it would rid all of its stores of tobacco products by Oct. 1, forgoing around $2 billion in annual sales. - Erik M. Manning

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 - Wall Street came back from its Labor Day weekend and at first it seemed as though it was ready to start the new month, which has historically been the weakest of the 12, nicely to the upside, buoyed by gains in Asia overnight and in Europe earlier that morning. But that early strength lasted just an hour, or so, and was followed by some moderate losses over the balance of the morning and into the afternoon.

This turnabout evolved notwithstanding the release of a pair of supportive economic reports at 10:00 AM (EDT). As to the data, in the more closely watched issuance of the two, the survey on U.S. manufacturing activity from the Institute for Supply Management, it was affirmed that this metric had come in at a better-than-expected 59.0 during August. Expectations had been for a slower rate of growth, at 56.8. In July, that gauge of industrial activity had been at 57.1. Any reading above 50.0 signals that this key business sector is expanding. In addition to that survey, a report also was issued showing that construction spending had increased strongly in July.

However, whether it was a case that the solid August in the equity market--in which the Standard and Poor's 500 Index had risen almost four percent, for that index's best August since 2000--had discounted such better economic news, or the worsening outlooks in both Ukraine and the Middle East had driven home some geopolitical realities, the market turned lower rather quickly, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling to session-worst decline of some 90 points shortly before lunchtime on the East Coast. At that level, the Dow was just nine points above the 17,000 mark.

However, as the afternoon evolved, the market seemed to stabilize and the mid-session losses narrowed on the 30-stock blue-chip composite and on the S&P 500 Index, while the NASDAQ, which had only moved slightly into the red at the session's nadir, added to its gains, as did the S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the small-cap Russell 2000.

The early afternoon comeback continued into the close, with the market winding up the day on a mixed note. All told, the Dow managed to pare about two-thirds of its worst loss of the day, closing down 31 points, while the Standard and Poor's 500 Index shed just a point. However, the tech-laden NASDAQ jumped 18 points and the S&P Mid-Cap 400 and the small-cap Russell 2000 strengthened as well, with each gaining a handful of points. This mixed tone also was evident among the advancers and decliners, as there were a few more decliners than advancers on the Big Board, while the NASDAQ, reflecting the overall better tone there, saw more gaining issues than losing stocks. Likewise, there was an even split among the ten largest equity groups, with five gaining and that same number falling yesterday, with the energy stocks, the basic materials issues, and the utilities among the weakest performing groups on this listless and uneven day. The Dow's loss was primarily ascribed to declines in its two oil giants and a nearly two-point decline in the shares of Home Depot (HD - Free Home Depot Stock Report), the giant building products retailer.

Now, looking ahead, we will be getting the release, throughout the day, of vehicle sales for the latest month, while this afternoon will bring the Beige Book summation of economic conditions across the nation. Then, tomorrow, we are scheduled to receive the monthly report on non-manufacturing activity and weekly jobless claims data. The week will then conclude on Friday with data on non-farm payroll growth in August and that month's figures on unemployment. An increase of 220,000 jobs last month is the view of most economists, while the jobless rate is forecast to have eased from 6.2% to 6.1%.

As to the markets thus far today, we see that stocks were a bit higher in Asia overnight, led by equities in Japan, while in Europe this morning, the markets are showing more formidable gains on indications that there could well be a truce evolving between Ukraine and Russia over Eastern Ukraine. Time will tell if such suggestions of peace are on the mark. As to our markets, here, too, the indications are positive, with the S&P 500 Index futures ahead by almost eight points, while the NASDAQ futures are climbing by some 13 points, thus presaging a stronger opening when trading gets under way in less than an hour from now. - Harvey S. Katz

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