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After The Bell - The bears, with the exception of a few short-lived intra-day rallies, had their way on Wall Street once again today. Not even a few encouraging reports on the U.S. economy (more below) were enough to offset growing concerns about the sovereign-debt problems in the euro zone. By the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500 Index were all in negative territory, with the tech-heavy NASDAQ suffering the biggest percentage setback. It was also a struggle for small- and mid-cap stocks today, with both the Russell 2000 and the S&P Mid-Cap 400 finishing in the red. All told, declining issues led advancers by a decent margin on both the Big Board and the NASDAQ—with a pretty sizable correction taking place on the NYSE, where advancers at one point held a two-to-one advantage on decliners.

From a sector perspective, the decliners outnumbered advancers among the 12 major groups. The day’s biggest laggards were the technology, financial, energy, and basic materials sectors, with notable weakness in steel stocks. Technology, which accounts for the highest sector weighting, was hurt by weakness in the shares of Apple (AAPL), Qualcomm (QCOM), and Microsoft (MSFTFree Microsoft Stock Report); the weak performance of banking stocks, along with a notable decline in the shares of Mastercard (MA) hurt the financials; and the continued pullback in oil prices amid global economic fears once again took its toll on the energy stocks after a decent start to the session for that group. Conversely, the conglomerate and healthcare areas performed decently today.    

As noted in our earlier market updates, the situation in the euro zone continues to spook investors around the globe. Earlier today, the Asian indexes fell sharply, while most of the major European bourses finished in negative territory—one exception being a modest gain by France’s CAC-40. In particular, investors are worried that other larger euro-zone members (i.e., Spain and Italy) could succumb to some of the problems facing Greece right now. Political and financial turmoil in Greece could jeopardize the country’s membership in the euro zone. Attempts, notably by Germany—the Continent’s largest economy—are now being made to keep the euro zone intact.

Meanwhile, the news on these shores was a bit better today. Specifically, the Commerce Department issued two decent reports on the U.S. economy before the market opened. We learned that housing market had strengthened somewhat in April, with housing starts rising by 2.6% sequentially last month, while data showed that industrial production increased by a notable 1.1% in April, nearly twice the gain that had been expected for the month. Then at 2:00 P.M. (EDT), the minutes from the latest Federal Open Market Committee meeting were released, with the big news being that more District heads may now be in favor of additional bond buying if the economy were to falter. Such actions are often viewed as a positive by market participants. However, at the same time, the lead bank also warned of sharp fiscal tightening in 2013 unless Congress reaches an agreement on the federal budget. Our sense is that latter news offset the boost the market may have gotten from the mild suggestion of further monetary stimulus on the Fed’s part. – 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 ET -  The U.S. stock market moved higher this morning, but has since encountered some resistance. At roughly noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 36 points (0.2%); the S&P 500 Index is advancing three points (0.3%); and the NASDAQ is ahead by five points (0.2%). Market breath is still showing a positive bias, as advancing issues are outnumbering decliners by a slight margin on the NYSE. Most of the market sectors are in positive territory, led higher by the conglomerates and the transportation issues. The energy stocks are also having a good session. Nonetheless, there is some weakness in the consumer cyclical names, and in the financial and technology issues.

Traders are partially overlooking the uncertain situation in Europe. The political shakeup in Greece has yet to be resolved.  This has many concerned about that country’s ability to improve its dire financial condition. Moreover, the issue could have repercussions for the entire European region, specifically with regards to the euro currency. The euro, now at $1.27 is off again today, and is near its 52-week low. The bourses opened lower, rallied a bit, possibly helped by news in the United States, but then gave back most of their gains. Further east, the Asian markets put in an abysmal session, possibly on fears about finances in the Europe, as well. The Hang Seng was off over 3%, while losses were more contained on the Nikkei.

Back in the United States, the economic news probably helped send the markets higher. This morning the Department of Commerce reported stronger-than-expected housing starts for the month of April, further lending credence to the idea that the real estate sector is slowly recovering. We also received a report showing industrial production strengthening last month. Meanwhile, traders are, no doubt, waiting for the release of the minutes from the FOMC’s April meeting.  This may well be what is keeping traders on the sidelines for now.

In the corporate arena, shares of JC Penny (JCP) are sinking, after the retailer posted weaker-than- hoped for sales and profits. Also in retail, shares of Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) are trading lower on a mixed report.  In the industrial area, Deere (DE) reported decent figures, but the stock is off nonetheless.

Technically, yesterday’s market’s performance was a bit discouraging. After attempting to rally in the morning, the sentiment turned cautious, with traders selling into the strength and erasing the day’s gains. This type of activity is common in weak markets, and displays a lack of commitment to upside moves. Hopefully, today’s rally attempt can gain some steam, but it does not look encouraging. Ultimately, it seems that once again the market adage “Sell in May” is holding true this year.   - 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 Retailers, many of which have fiscal years that end in January, continue to dominate the earnings calendar. Shares of department store J.C. Penney (JCP) plunged in extended trading after the company reported a steep per-share loss in the April period and announced the suspension of its quarterly cash dividend. Teen apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) and office supplies store Staples (SPLS) also disappointed investors. Staples stock moved modestly lower in early morning trading, while Abercrombie shares took a more sizable hit. On the other hand, fellow retailers Target (TGT) and Chicos (CHS) released April-quarter results that pleased investors, who bid the stocks higher in premarket trading. Farm equipment manufacturer Deere & Co. (DE) also rose in the premarket, thanks to solid April-term earnings.

Shares of General Motors (GM) are up in premarket trading this morning, after Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB), the holding company led by legendary investor Warren Buffett, disclosed that it has purchased 10 million shares of the automaker's stock. – 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 - Another day, another stock market decline could well be the operative phrase on Wall Street these days. That is because the equity market continues to move lower, with yesterday's disappointing action pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a four-month low. All told, that index of 30 blue chip companies started the day on a mixed note, then gave ground early, firmed in mid-session, and faded again near the close. At its worst reading, the Dow was off some 90 points; at its peak, it was up by almost 65 points. By the close, it was lower by 63 points. The NASDAQ also was volatile, gaining some 30 points at its high and falling by 13 points at its low before closing off a modest nine points. Volatility is about all that is rising these days.

Once again, it was Greece that led stocks lower here and overseas. Specifically, there are fears that this struggling nation, which is attempting--without success so far--to form a viable governing coalition, following an inconclusive election result nearly a fortnight ago, could leave the single currency euro zone. Attempts, notably by Germany, are now being made to keep the euro zone intact. We will see what comes of such efforts. In truth, Greece is a small player in this 17-nation confederation. However, if Greece leaves the euro zone, there are fears of a domino effect, with other struggling, and materially larger, nations, such Spain and Italy, perhaps opting to leave as well.

The problems in Greece offset some reasonable economic metrics on our shores and in Europe. Over here, data issued yesterday morning showed that retail sales had inched forward in April, as expected, following stronger gains in January, February, and March, with the latter month helped by the early arrival of the Easter holiday this year. At the same time, the Labor Department issued the Consumer Price Index for April. Results were comforting on this count, as prices were unchanged last month. Couple that with a tame reading on producer, or wholesale, prices issued late last week, and there would now appear to be some latitude for the Federal Reserve to perhaps introduce a round of additional monetary easing, in the form of a possible QE3. And on that score, we may get some inkling of what the lead bank plans this afternoon with the scheduled release of the minutes from the late-April FOMC meeting.

Meanwhile, we have just had the release of a key economic figure on our shores, as the Commerce Department has just issued data showing that housing starts had risen by a modest 2.6% in April, coming in at a seasonally adjusted 717,000 annual units during the month. Year-over-year, the gain was nearly 30%, albeit in absolute terms, the overall level was still quite depressed. Also, in just a few minutes from now, the Commerce Department will release data on industrial production and factory usage for April. Flattish readings are expected. As to other data, oil continues to tumble, on higher supplies and lower needs in a faltering global economy. Oil in New York was trading below $92 a barrel earlier today, while gold was also falling anew on economic worries.

However, even with this troubling backdrop, there appears to be some bargain hunting at work this morning, with the U.S. equity futures having climbed rather briskly in the past hour. In all, the Standard and Poor's 500 Index futures are now ahead by more than eight points, while the NASDAQ futures are better by some 15 points, presaging a stronger opening on Wall Street in about a half 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.