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After the Close - The U.S. stock market put in another weak session today that ended with moderate losses. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 28 points (-0.2%); the broader S&P 500 Index was lower by two points (-0.2%); and the tech-heavy NASDAQ was off by 10 points (-0.4%). Market breadth was negative again with declining issues ahead of advancers by a decent margin on the NYSE. Weakness was found in most of the market sectors, with sharp declines in the basic materials and healthcare issues. However, some strength was seen in the consumer cyclical names, and in the financials.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index closed below its 200-day moving average, located at about 1,380 once again. That index is now about 8.5% off its 52-week high. Certainly, the current market pullback could turn into a full-scale correction, which would entail a decline of about 10%, or more. Some indexes are already there. From here, possible areas of support for the S&P 500 may be found at the current 1,350 a level, which may hold some “psychological” significance for investors. Just below this, the 1,300 level marks the area hit in the summer correction.  Traders still seem somewhat complacent. There has been a lack of panic selling, and little of the “capitulation” behavior that sometimes forms at market bottoms. The VIX was a bit higher today, but at 18, the current reading is still quite low.

Some of the weakness today may have reflected some disappointing economic news. According to the Labor Department, initial jobless claims for the week ended November 10th rose to 439,000, which was higher than many had expected. Lost jobs from Hurricane Sandy had an effect here. Continuing weekly claims also moved up. In addition, traders received a weaker-than-anticipated report from the Philadelphia Fed, suggesting that the economy remained sluggish in that region in the month of November. Elsewhere, the Consumer Price Index more or less matched expectations. The Empire manufacturing report was weak, too, but essentially came in as expected. Tomorrow, we will get a look at industrial production figures for October.

The corporate news was mixed.  Specifically, Dow-30 component Wal-Mart (WMT - Free Wal-Mart Stock Report) stock slipped after the retailer reported strong earnings, but a weaker-than-expected top line. In technology, NetApp (NTAP) stock rose sharply on healthy results. Meanwhile, shares of widely watched Diamond Foods (DMND) plunged after the company released its restated results.  - 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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12:20 PM EST - Trading in stocks is relatively quiet, but deteriorating, so far today after yesterday’s 185-point selloff in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which accelerated toward the close. Just after the noon hour on the East Coast, the Dow is down 49 points and the technology-laden NASDAQ is off 15 points. The underlying tone is downbeat, with more than two stocks falling for every one rising on the Big Board, although the advance/decline line is not as bearish on the NASDAQ.

There simply isn’t much to get excited about, at least in the short term, given uneven economic growth stateside, evidence of a recession in Europe, and the general sluggishness of business conditions worldwide. Wall Street is also factoring in the distinct possibility that austerity measures (higher taxes and less government spending) similar to the type that are keeping growth in check in Europe, may be adopted here, to some degree, in 2013.

Moreover, a key element of the recovery took a step back this morning, when the Labor Department reported that weekly initial jobless claims spiked following the massive disruption caused by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. Improving employment conditions had been providing support to consumer confidence. Now, though, the temporary loss of jobs and sales caused by the storm are likely to materially hurt fourth-quarter GDP, which wasn’t expected to be a big number in the first place.

More supportive news on the jobs front is that the number of seasonal hires by retailers and shippers to handle extra holiday volume looks to be about normal.

Another underlying plus is that mortgage rates fell to yet another low, according to Freddie Mac. The government-sponsored lender reported that the average rate for a 30-year mortgage fell to 3.36%, from 3.40% the prior week, while rates on 15-year mortgages fell to 2.65%, from 2.69%. Those are terrific rates for anyone in the market to buy a home, and should help keep the recovery in the housing market going.

In corporate news, BP’s (BP) American Depository Receipts are trading slightly higher, as the oil giant has indicated that it is in the process of settling legal issues with the Justice Department and the SEC regarding its 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.

Elsewhere, shares of Wal-Mart (WMT - Free Wal-Mart Stock Report) are leading the Dow lower. The retail behemoth reported about-as-expected earnings, but October-quarter sales were disappointing and the company restated a profit outlook that was below analysts’ estimates.

Heading into afternoon trading, stocks are near their lows for the session, and the bulls may be the defensive a bit longer. - Robert Mitkowski

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

Stocks to Watch from The Survey Retailers are in the earnings spotlight today, with none bigger than Dow-30 component Wal-Mart (WMTFree Wal-Mart Stock Report). That stock is down notably in pre-market trading, after the world’s largest retailer reported solid October-period earnings, but disappointed Wall Street with its sales and outlook. Investors were more enthused with quarterly results from rival Target (TGT), as that stock is indicating a modestly higher opening this morning. Other retail stocks moving higher in the premarket include Hot Topic (HOTT) and PetSmart (PETM). Conversely, shares of Williams-Sonoma (WSM) are indicating a lower opening.

Other stocks making big moves ahead of the opening bell on earnings news include shares of data storage company NetApp (NTAP), which are up sharply. On the other hand, shares of Diamond Foods (DMND) are plunging, after the nut and snacks company issued restated 2010 and 2011 financials due to well-publicized accounting issues regarding payments made to walnut growers. – 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 - The bulls fought valiantly to avert another late meltdown yesterday, but in the end, the bears had their way, which is becoming an all-too familiar pattern these days. Thus, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which at one point had been up some 40 points, tumbled another 185 points. Add in a 52-point move to the downside on Tuesday, and the two-day 434-point reversal on November 7th and 8th, and it would seem as though we have the makings of at least a modest correction. Meanwhile, the Standard and Poor's 500 Index, a 19-point loser yesterday, has broken through some key technical support, while the NASDAQ, which dropped another 37 points for the session, although for a change did not underperform, is now officially in a correction, having declined more than 10% from peak to trough. The small-cap Russell 2000 Index is also in correction territory. It is not a pretty picture for the bulls. 

Behind the current selloff are building concerns about the looming fiscal cliff of scheduled tax increases and spending cuts. That ominous one-two punch is set to take effect on January 2nd of next year unless Congress and the White House strike a deal that would either push back the deadline or actually solve the issue. At some point, calmer heads will likely prevail--even in fractious Washington. However, for now, the risk of going off the cliff, and the increasing chances for a new recession, are out there and very real.

Of course, the fiscal cliff is not all that the stock market has on its collective mind. There also is the deteriorating situation in Europe, where Greece is in real danger of not being able to meet its obligations and could very well exit the euro zone. Also, other nations over there, notably Spain, are in trouble themselves. In fact, even with Germany and France, the two strongest nations in that loose economic confederation, managing to press forward on the business front, albeit somewhat hesitantly at present, the European Union is in recession on an aggregate basis, as of the most recent quarter. And the situation on the Continent may well get worse before it gets better.

Meanwhile, at home, there are added concerns on the earnings front, where more and more larger-cap names are disappointing. Just this morning, retailing behemoth and Dow-30 component, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT - Free Wal-Mart Stock Report) posted decent earnings results, in fact topping consensus estimates. However, the giant chain fell short on the revenue side and traders are proving unforgiving, pushing that large-cap issue notably lower in the pre-market. Moreover, fellow retailing mainstay Target (TGT), posted better-than-expected results, but even that solid showing is seemingly not enough to put a smile on the face of many investors, as that issue is indicating a mixed start to the trading day.

Finally, there is the Middle East, which is never calm, but now is seeing some fighting in and around Israel, as terrorists continue to launch rockets into that nation. Of course, there also is Iran, which makes noise from time to time, and where nuclear issues are never far from the market's mind. So, it is a troubled world picture that will greet investors in less than an hour from now. As to the futures, they had been up nicely earlier this morning, but are currently mixed, and falling back steadily.   - Harvey S. Katz

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