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After The Close - U.S. equity markets started the day with good intentions, but apparently lacked any real conviction in terms of direction. After a modest rise at the open, which gave hope to some that the bulls would step back in, stocks lost steam as the morning wore on, dipping briefly into negative territory around noon. The major indexes mustered enough energy to get back into the plus side during the afternoon. But when all was said and done, stocks were largely right back where they ended on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ all just a few tenths of a percentage point above the unchanged mark.

This lackluster showing was not surprising, given the dearth of market-moving economic news today. To be sure, the Labor Department’s report that initial jobless claims for the prior week were lower than expected was a plus, as was the Department of Commerce’s announcement that durable goods orders showed a sizable gain in September. On the other hand, the National Association of Realtors threw a bit of a damper on things when its Pending Home Sales Index for September came in below economists' expectations. Still, this forward indicator suggested that the housing market continues to move in the right direction, however tentatively.

Rather, it appears that investors and traders remained more actively concerned with the steady flow of third-quarter earnings reports which crossed the wires throughout the day. As has been the case for most of the current reporting season, news has been largely mixed. Among the larger names issuing financial report cards today was Dow component Procter & Gamble (PG - Free Procter & Gamble Stock Report). The company’s stock had been struggling to keep up with the rest of the blue chips earlier in the year, but investors appeared pleased with the consumer product makers’ latest numbers, lifting the shares up nearly 3% on the day. Conversely, a disappointing outlook from electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY) sent its stock tumbling more than 10%. Most of the other companies reporting today saw their shares react within a much more narrower range, hence the seemingly moribund state of the indexes.

If anything, one discernable theme that is being revealed as this reporting season winds down is that although the majority of companies have beaten (mostly reduced) earnings expectations, far fewer have generated equally impressive gains on the sales line. And, perhaps even more troubling, a growing number of participants have scaled back expectations for the quarters ahead.

Looking ahead, we have a bevy of heavyweight technology names reporting after today’s close, including Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), and Expedia (EXPE) which could set the tone for tomorrow’s early trading day. 

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 opened higher, but has since weakened. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 22 points (-0.2%); the broader S&P 500 Index is lower by about one point; the technology-heavy NASDAQ is also now down slightly. Market breadth shows a slightly negative bias, as declining stocks are outweighing advancers by a thin margin on the NYSE. The various market sectors are largely divided. There is notable strength in the consumer names, and in the healthcare issues. In contrast, there is some weakness in the conglomerates, and in the capital goods shares.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index continues to display weakness, as it has pulled back on numerous sessions for the past week, or so. The broad-based index may find some support at the 1,400 level, where it is currently trading. Notably, this was a key level back in August, as the market was consolidating in a sideways range. If the S&P 500 heads lower from here, it may test the 200-day moving average, located at 1,376. Meanwhile, the VIX, otherwise known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, is trading a bit higher today, now at 18, indicating a slightly less complacent tone.  

The economic news was somewhat supportive this morning. The employment situation may be getting better. According to the Labor Department, initial jobless claims for the week ended October 20th came in at 369,000, which was lower than analysts had been expecting, and below the 392,000 claims posted in the prior week. Meanwhile, according to the Department of Commerce, durable goods orders rose 9.9% in September, which was better than consensus expectations. However, the gain in orders was only about 2% for the month, when transportation is excluded, and this shows a much less dramatic improvement.

Once again, traders were actively digesting the third-quarter earnings releases coming out. Procter & Gamble (PG Free P&G Stock Report) shares are trading higher, after the consumer products leader reported strong quarterly profits. Elsewhere, Best Buy (BBY) stock is sinking after the retailer released disappointing figures. Zynga (ZNGA) is also having a good day, as that stock is soaring on a better-than-expected release.

Active issues heading higher today include: Akamai (AKAM), Carbo Ceramics (CRR), and Tenneco (TEN). Stocks that are moving lower include: Crocs (CROX), F5 Networks (FFIV), and Cabelas (CAB).   - 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 Investors will be inundated with earnings reports again today, as more than 50 companies in the S&P 500 Index are scheduled to release quarterly results. Household products giant Procter & Gamble (PGFree Procter & Gamble Stock Report) is the lone Dow-30 component reporting earnings today, and that stock is up nicely in pre-market trading, as investors appeared pleased with its September-period financials. Shares of industry peer Colgate-Palmolive (CL) are also indicating a higher opening this morning, but to a lesser extent than PG stock.

Other notable issues that are advancing in pre-market trading on earnings news include cruise ship operator Royal Caribbean (RCL), health insurer Aetna (AET), tobacco company Altria (MO), restaurant chain Dunkin Brands (DNKN), game developer Zynga (ZNGA), e-commerce outfit Akamai Technologies (AKAM), petroleum concern ConocoPhillips (COP), and Symantec (SYMC), a maker of security software. On the other hand, shares of shoe manufacturer Crocs (CROX), international mining and natural resources company Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF), telecom equipment provider F5 Networks (FFIV), and Logitech (LOGI), a maker of computer peripherals, are all indicating lower openings this morning, as investors were disappointed with their quarterly results.

After the market closes, a number of big-name technology companies, including Apple (AAPL), Amazon.com (AMZN), and Expedia (EXPE), are on tap to release third-quarter financials. – 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 - Investors greet another trading day in a cautiously upbeat mood today after yesterday’s session saw modest losses across the major averages. Late in the day, the Federal Reserve ended its two-day policy meeting and stated once again that it saw significant downside risks to the economy. Stocks tailed off somewhat following that announcement, after having been flattish for most of the day.

Meanwhile, earnings season continues to have a choppy tone to it, with a number of companies reporting lower-than-expected revenues and indicating boom times aren’t in sight.

One of the big problems businesses are pointing to is the economic slowdown in Europe. The GDP of the combined nations in the euro zone is greater than that of the United States, meaning tough times across the Atlantic will ripple across the globe.

However, there don’t seem to be any major euro-related issues coming to a head this morning, and stocks in Europe are trending slightly higher. Markets in Asia turned up a bit, as well.

That clears the way for the day’s economic data and earnings news to make their mark. A couple of consumer products companies, Procter & Gamble (PGFree P&G Stock Report) and Unilever (UL), as well as driller Occidental Petroleum (OXY) have reported results better than Wall Street expected. That is providing the markets with some early support.

Elsewhere, investors got some favorable business news when the Commerce Department reported that durable goods orders jumped 9.9% in September. Economists had generally been expecting a tamer increase, following a big drop in August. Excluding the variability of orders for defense and aircraft, though, so-called core durable goods rose a similar 0.2% as in August.

The Labor Department also reported that the week’s initial unemployment claims fell by 23,000, in line with expectations.   

After the closing bell, heavyweights Apple (AAPL) and Amazon.com (AMZN) are scheduled to release quarterly results. Expectations are high for Apple, and its performance will likely go a long way toward determining how the tech sector does tomorrow. Amazon, meantime, one of the survivors of the tech wreck earlier in the decade, is expected to turn in a small loss, as the internet retailer spends heavily to support its operations.

The early read on the market is for a moderately higher open. But today’s action could be muted as investors wait for Apple’s report after hours and ahead of tomorrow important reading on the nation’s third-quarter GDP. - Robert Mitkowski

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