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After the Close - The U.S. markets started the week with a listless session on Monday. With little happening on the economic front, traders lacked any real catalysts to drive stocks higher, and the major indexes largely spent the day meandering around the unchanged mark. There was, however, further positive news on the housing front. Specifically, the National Association of Realtors reported that nine out of 10 metropolitan areas in the U.S. saw higher home prices in the fourth quarter. Moreover, the national median price for existing single-family residences climbed 10% above the prior-year level. That marked the largest year-over-year advance since the final quarter of 2005.

While certainly welcome news, the data failed to prompt any spirited buying. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ all closed the session just fractionally in the red on a percentage basis.  Looking over across the pond, the European bourses had a bit more lively trading day, though not by much. The session was mixed, led on the upside by a half percentage point gain for France’s CAC 40, while London’s FTSE 100 managed to hold on to a slight gain for the day. Germany’s DAX was the laggard, posting a modest loss.

With U.S. stocks hovering near their five-year highs, it’s to be expected that the markets will take a breather now and then. However, the break is likely to be short-lived, as traders will be eagerly awaiting the data on January retail sales, which will be released on Wednesday. The numbers will be especially scrutinized this time around because they will reflect the initial impact on spending from the expiration of the payroll tax cuts that took effect at the start of the year. Also of concern is the fact that gasoline prices have been creeping upward in recent weeks. Altogether, the consensus is calling for a relatively modest tenth of a percentage point year-over-year increase in retail sales, following a 0.5% gain in December, with an assist from holiday shoppers. - Mario Ferro

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 EST - The U.S. stock market opened lower this morning, but is now making an effort to pare its losses. Lately when the market has weakened, we have seen bargain hunters move in to scoop up stocks. Ultimately, this shows that there is capital on the sidelines still waiting to enter the market. Technically, the S&P 500 Index has managed to stay over at the 1,500 mark, so far. Although, there seems to be some consolidation taking place in this area, as the market seems to be resisting an immediate move higher. The earnings season, which has helped lift sentiment, is starting to wind down. Further, the market’s price-to-earnings multiple, now a bit over 16, may be the cause of some concern, too.

As we pass the noon hour in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off 26 points (-0.2%); the S&P 500 Index is down just two points; and the tech-heavy NASDAQ is lower by six points (-0.2%). Market breadth shows a slightly negative bias to the session, as decliners are just slightly ahead of advancers on the NYSE. Most of the market sectors are in negative territory, with visible weakness in the energy and basic materials names. In contrast, the technology and transportation issues are moving higher.

Some stocks are making news today. Novo Nordisk (NVO) shares are trading much lower, after a new drug application received an unfavorable response from the FDA.  Competing drugmaker Sanofi (SNY) is seeing its stock rise in response to the news.  Elsewhere, Lowe’s (L) stock is falling, after that company put out a disappointing quarterly report. Stocks moving higher include: AOL (AOL), Regeneron (REGN), and Moody’s (MCO). Stocks headed lower include: Caeser’s Entertainment (CZR) and Rentech (RTK). 

Meanwhile, there were no economic reports for traders to look at this morning. That, along with only a handful of earnings announcements, may explain the sluggish tone today. Tomorrow will also be a light day for economic news, with just the Treasury budget for January due out. After that, things pick up quite a bit on Wednesday, as we get a look at retail sales figures for January, as well as export and imports prices for January.

On the Continent, the markets are just finishing out a lackluster session, with no large moves in the major bourses.   - 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 Although earnings season is still in full swing, companies appear to be taking a slight breather today, before reporting accelerates after the market closes and later this week. However, there are still a few names to keep an eye on this morning. Indeed, shares of Loews (L) are trading lower in the premarket after the financial services company reported disappointing fourth-quarter results. Elsewhere, shares of Novo Nordisk (NVO) are down sharply ahead of the bell, after the drugmaker failed to win FDA approval for two medications. – 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 Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above the psychologically important 14,000 mark late in the week before last, in a further frantic push by the bulls to recapture the stock market's pre-recession glory, before some profit taking kicked in to take off a little of that luster in the days that followed. However, even though the subsequent renewal of the rally left the bulls a bit short of 14,000, the reaffirmation of the upward momentum, which culminated in Friday's 49-point gain by that 30-stock composite, left the Dow just about seven points shy of that important level.

Thus, we start a new week, following the Friday gain, with the Dow at 13,992.97. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index, thanks to its nine-point advance on Friday, is at 1,517.93, thereby pushing above the critical 1,500 support level once more, while the NASDAQ, a 29-point gainer on the final day of the trading week, is just below 3,194. For the year to date, the Dow is up 889 points, 6.8%; the S&P 500 is ahead 92 points, or 6.4%; and the NASDAQ is in the plus column by 174 points, or 5.8%. The bull is back, some would suggest. But in another sense, it has never really left since early 2009.

Meanwhile, we now look ahead to a new week, and from an economic standpoint, we will be getting data on Wednesday on retail sales, which are expected to have just nudged ahead by 0.1% last month. In December, by comparison, such activity had increased by 0.5%, reflecting what ultimately was a modestly better holiday shopping season. We then will get the usual jobless claims data on Thursday, and will then conclude the week with reports Friday on industrial production, capacity utilization, and consumer sentiment. Expectations are that industrial output rose by 0.2% in January, after a 0.3% advance in December. At the same time, factory use is forecast to have ticked up from 78.8% in December to 78.9% last month. Also, consumer sentiment likely rose modestly in the latest report, which will be issued by the University of Michigan.

As to earnings, they will continue to come out fairly heavily in the coming five days. Headline reporters will include Coca-Cola (KO - Free Coca-Cola Stock Report) tomorrow, Cisco Systems (CSCO), Comcast (CMCSA), and Deere (DE) on Wednesday, and PepsiCo (PEP) on Thursday.

As to the markets this morning, they are generally higher across the euro zone, while on our shores, the S&P 500 Index futures are ahead by almost a point and the NASDAQ futures are better by a point and a half, with about a half hour to go before the start of the new trading day. Earlier this morning, the futures had been posting somewhat more impressive gains.

Overall, we sense that the equity market is overbought, but not necessarily overpriced on a short-to-intermediate-term basis. We are still constructive on equities, just now cautiously so given the extended run by the market over the past few months.   - Harvey S. Katz

At the time of this article's writing, the author had positions in CSCO and CMCSA.