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After the Close -  Stocks were engaged in an uphill battle today, falling more than 100 points at the opening bell, but came back, only to weaken again at the end of the session. The decision in the euro zone to tax depositors’ bank accounts in Cyprus as a way to contribute funds for a bailout of that financially stricken nation shook the global markets as trading resumed this week. Stock markets in Europe and Asia fell as a result, and there was concern that a major selloff could be imminent here. 

But for most of the day, investors here didn’t take the news as badly as their overseas counterparts. That was partly on the thinking that taxing bank accounts is too tough a medicine to swallow and will be difficult to implement in other cash-strapped euro nations, such as Spain and Italy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, in fact, even briefly poked into positive territory this afternoon. Still, the incident serves as a reminder that Europe’s troubles are not behind it, even if they have quieted down in recent months.

At the close, the Dow and the NASDAQ shed 62 points and 11 points, respectively. The broader market was biased to the downside, with the number of declining issues easily outpacing those advancing.

As to be expected, the financial sector was the day’s laggard. The concern has long been that if any problems arising in Europe reach these shores, they will be transmitted through the banks, owing to their global interconnections. Shares of companies, such as Citigroup (C) and Morgan Stanley (MS) fell notably on a percentage basis as a result. Stocks of European banks, such as Barclay’s (BCS) fared even worse.
Consumer stocks, including NIKE (NKE) and Coach (COH) also had a tough day, as did those of oilfield services shares Schlumberger (SLB) and Halliburton (HAL), which slipped on fears of slower global growth.

Tomorrow brings fresh word on the housing market’s recovery, with the release of February data on housing starts and building permits. But even another indication that housing is continuing its long road back to health is not likely to sway the Federal Reserve from its easy money policies. The central bank begins its two-day FOMC meeting on Tuesday, and no material change in strategy is likely with unemployment at an elevated 7.7%.
On tap for tomorrow, as well, are earnings reports from software designer Adobe Systems (ADBE) and industrial services provider Cintas (CTAS).  - Robert Mitkowski

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

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12:40 PM EST - The stock market opened sharply lower today, but has managed to pare its losses. At just past noon in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off 10 points (-0.1%); the S&P 500 Index is down four points (-0.2%); and the tech-heavy NASDAQ is off four points (-0.1%). Market breadth indicates a negative tone to today’s session, as declining stocks are outnumbering advancers by about 2 to 1 on the NYSE. Most of the various market sectors are trading in negative territory, with losses in the financials, healthcare, and some of the consumer names. However, the transports, technology, and conglomerates are showing selective strength.

Technically, the market may be taking a breather, after making a string of consecutive advances. Notably, the VIX, still at the low level of about 13, is up almost 14% today, suggesting traders may be getting a bit more cautious. It will be important to watch investor behavior in the last hours of the coming sessions, as this can provide clues to sentiment and market direction. Meanwhile…

Traders here in the United States are likely taking their cue from the overseas markets, where there are concerns about a bailout package for Cyprus. This has rekindled fears about financial distress in countries, such as Spain and Italy. On the Continent, the major bourses were trading lower at the opening, bit have firmed up a since. The euro is off sharply to about $1.30. Gold, a hard asset, is up to $1,604 an ounce, as investors look for safety. There is also buying in U.S. Treasuries.

There was just one economic report released in The United States today. The NAHB Housing Market Index came in at 44 for the month of March, which was a bit lower than last month’s reading, and also a bit short of expectations. Tomorrow, we get a look at February’s housing starts and building permits. This will be followed by the Fed’s interest-rate decision on Wednesday.

There also has been some corporate news released today. Specifically, biotech provider Incyte (INCY) stock is lower on product-related news. In technology, Ericsson (ERIC) stock is off, but STMicroelectronics (STM) is trading higher, after the two companies announced that progress is being made on the breakup of their joint venture. Elsewhere, stocks moving up include: YRC Worldwide (YRCW), Valueclick (VCLK), and J.C. Penny (JCP). Issues headed lower include: Advent Software (ADVS) Sonic Automotive (SAH), and Coffee Holding (JVA). 

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 The U.S. markets appear poised for a notably lower opening this morning, largely on euro-zone worries. However, corporate news is quite light ahead of the bell. One bright spot, though, is shares of wine and spirits company Constellation Brands (STZ), which stands to benefit from assets it is buying from beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD). InBev is selling the assets in an attempt to placate regulators who have pushed back against the company’s proposal to purchase the 50% stake in Mexico-based brewer Grupo Model that it does not already own. At this point, the transaction appears to be going smoothly, and the two brewers believe they will be able to resolve antitrust issues raised by the Justice Department. The stock of Palomar Medical Technologies (PMTI) is also indicating a higher opening this morning, after the developer and manufacturer of light-based systems for hair removal and other cosmetic treatments agreed to be acquired by industry peer Cynosure for $294 million ($13.65 per share) in cash and 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 - U.S. stocks broke their long winning streak on Friday, but they did it so rather gingerly and few really noticed. Specifically, after 10 consecutive winning sessions, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell back by 25 points in the latest session, coming back by the final bell from a loss that was more than twice as big earlier in the day. The other averages likewise fell back modestly, in a belated and very half-hearted attempt at profit taking.

Even so, by the end of the day the Dow was still up by 10.8% thus far this year, putting that 30-stock composite, which had strung together eight record closes in succession, in the middle of the pack for the year to date. Exceeding the Dow's 10.8% advance in 2013 are the Standard and Poor's Mid-Cap 400 Index and the small-cap Russell 2000. Lagging the Dow are the NASDAQ, which has a more modest 6.3% gain thus far in 2013, and the S&P 500 Index, which is up 9.4%.

All told, though, it continues to be a year for the bulls, with Friday's close, the second highest for the Dow on record. The latest session, while not very noteworthy in terms of overall movement, however, was of note for aggregate interest, as trading volumes were the highest of 2013. Trading on the NYSE, for example, topped the 4.9 billion share mark. Trading also was at a peak on the NASDAQ. Such a volume-intensive performance has, in the past, often taken place at stock market turns.

This is not to ascribe much importance to Friday's market, although we do note that markets are off sharply across the globe this morning. However, in this latter case, that would seem to have less to do with stocks being overbought, as with the latest crisis in the already beleaguered euro zone. To wit, over the weekend, that loose monetary confederation's latest panacea was announced and it involves an effort to bail out financially encumbered Cyprus. It is not that this small nation is so critical to the euro zone, as it is this group's second smallest nation. It is just that the remedy put forth is novel and upsetting to the global markets. Specifically, the euro zone, in its efforts to rescue Cyprus, has proposed taxing the bank accounts of depositors in that nation.

What is so unnerving to many traders around the world is that nearly 40% of the total holdings in such institutions are held by foreign investors, with a large chunk of that total being in the hands of investors in Russia, a fact that has not been met with wide applause by that nation's leadership. Worries that such solutions could spread to other European nations have sparked wide selloffs in Europe this morning, with the bourses in England, Germany, France, and Italy all deeply in the red. And on our shores, the futures are well in the minus column too, although they are notably off of their lows of the day, with about a half hour to go before the start of the new trading day. In all, the S&P 500 Index futures are lower by 14 points and the NASDAQ futures are down by 22 points. 

As to other news in the day and week ahead, there are no issuances of note in the current session. However, tomorrow, the Federal Reserve's latest two-day FOMC meeting is due to get under way. We also are due to get the latest monthly data on housing starts and building permits. Gains in each category are forecast. Wednesday will see the conclusion of the aforementioned FOMC get together, and will bring earnings from software giant Oracle (ORCL) and food processing stalwart General Mills (GIS). Then, on Thursday, we are due to see the release of the latest metrics on sales of existing homes. Here, as well, an increase is the consensus forecast, as the housing market continues to recover strongly. And on the earnings front, we are due to get earnings figures from food behemoth ConAgra (CAG). 

Thus, it should be a fairly busy week, and potentially a volatile one, if the current indicators have some staying power and the market runs into some overdue headwinds in the days to come.   - Harvey S. Katz

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