After the Close - The stock market opened lower this morning and, for once, was unable to meaningfully reverse course as the session unfolded. The lack of bargain hunting, which had materialized so many times before, might suggest that the bulls are becoming fatigued. At the end of the day in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 90 points (-0.6%); the S&P 500 Index had lost 13 points (-0.8%); and the tech-heavy NASDAQ , which led the market lower, had slipped 32 points (-1.0%).  Market breadth was negative, as declining stocks outnumbered advancers by about 2 to 1 on the NYSE. Weakness was apparent in all of the market sectors, with especially sharp declines in the technology, consumer cyclical, and financial issues. However, the losses were more contained in high- yielding utility and defensive healthcare sectors.

Technically, the S&P 500 is likely consolidating, as the last several sessions have seen some controlled selling. The VIX jumped about 10% to about 13.98 today, suggesting some caution is mounting. Nonetheless, it may be too early to declare that a full-scale stock market pullback is in the making.

Once again, traders were likely worried about events overseas, with the banking problems in Cyprus taking center stage.  The markets on the Continent headed lower, as the euro weakened against the U.S. dollar. While Cyprus, itself, is a small country, the situation there has rekindled concerns about the health of other larger countries in the region and the ability of European leaders to work together. Notably, in some of the more recent market corrections, weakness in Greece, Spain, and Italy was the prime concern. Investors scooped up gold, silver, and U.S. Treasuries today, in response.

Investors were also not too happy with the corporate news. After the closing bell yesterday, Oracle (ORCL) posted its results. Analysts were disappointed with the technology-giant’s top-line performance, and that stock sold off sharply today. The situation may have been compounded as some other large technology companies received “Wall Street” downgrades. Ultimately, with stocks trading at slightly elevated price-to-earnings multiples, some investors may now be getting concerned about the first-quarter earnings season, and specifically with the earnings guidance for the remainder of the year.

Meantime, investors shrugged off some decent economic reports this morning. Positive progress was made on the unemployment front, as the weekly initial jobless claims came in better than expected. The Philadelphia Fed put out an encouraging report on the economy in that key region. However, existing home sales for February came in just shy of expectations, but did gain slightly.  - Adam Rosner

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


12:20 PM EST - Stocks are trading lower today as weakness in technology shares and the lack of a resolution to the latest crisis in Europe weigh on investor sentiment. Just past the noon hour on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 30 points and the tech-heavy NASDAQ is off 19 points, or greater on a percentage basis than the Dow. The broader market mirrors the weakness, with more stocks down than up, particularly on the NASDAQ.

The downbeat mood toward tech comes after a disappointing report on sales and earnings following last night’s closing bell from sector bellwether Oracle (ORCL). That has dragged down the shares of some other notable names, such as IBM (IBM - Free IBM Stock Report) and Cisco Systems (CSCO - Free Cisco Systems Stock Report), both Dow components.

Meantime, the unraveling of Cyprus’ financial system and the inability of European leaders to find acceptable bailout terms for the tiny island nation has the world wondering if this could be the start of a breakup of the European Union. That sort of uncertainty doesn’t sit well on Wall Street.

Offsetting the bad news was some relatively upbeat data on the domestic economy this morning. A survey from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve reported a turnaround in the region’s business activity in March, for instance. Moreover, the four-week average of weekly initial unemployment claims fell to its lowest level in five years; the index of leading economic indicators rose for the third straight month; and new home sales rose to a three-year high.

But good news on the economy was largely expected, whereas the slip on Oracle’s part was not. Barring any fresh developments, that unpleasant surprise could keep the market on the defensive this afternoon, although stocks are off their worst levels of the session.

Occasional bouts of profit-taking are to be expected, as well, given the big run equities have enjoyed this year. At the start of trading this morning, the Dow had already gained more than 10% in 2013, which often represents a full-year’s work.

There are a few winners to point out, though. Shares of apparel maker Perry Ellis (PERY) and furniture manufacturer Herman Miller (MLHR) are moving higher after issuing upbeat earnings reports. Shares of driller Sanchez Energy (SN) are also nicely in the plus column. The company recently agreed to purchase property in south Texas from Hess (HES) that stands to boost its production and reserves. -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 There are a number of earnings reports to be aware of this morning, several of which were disappointing. The most notable laggards were software developer Oracle (ORCL) and book publisher Scholastic (SCHL), as both companies reported disappointing February-period results, causing their respective stocks to fall sharply in pre-market trading. Shares of luggage manufacturer Tumi Holdings (TUMI), apparel company Guess (GES), and Jabil Circuit (JBL), a supplier of manufacturing services for circuit board assemblies and systems, are also indicating lower openings this morning on earnings news.

Conversely, shares of lululemon athletica (LULU) are rebounding slightly in the premarket, after the retailer of yoga-inspired athletic clothing and accessories reported January-period results. The stock had been down for several days, after management revealed quality control issues and resulting product recalls, which will likely weigh on sales and earnings in the near term. Shares of discount retailer Ross Stores (ROST) and homebuilder KB Home (KBH) are also higher ahead of the bell on earnings news. – Matthew E. Spencer

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


Before The Bell - Wall Street's mini-losing streak ended yesterday, with some good-sized gains in the major averages and a very strong plurality of winning issues over losing stocks, especially on the Big Board.

The market's latest rise, following what was a very brief and altogether shallow three-day retreat, came in the face of continued poor tidings from Cyprus, the latest of the euro zone's financially encumbered nations to find itself in ever-deeper economic gloom. The solution that had been talked about to get that nation out of its financial mess--a tax on the bank depositors in that country, which was rejected by Parliament--only added to the gloom surrounding that situation.

However, investors were apparently willing to look beyond that country's fast-mushrooming problems, at least for one day, in large part because the news on our shores was notably better.

For example, yesterday morning, the Department of Commerce reported increases in both housing starts and building permits in February, with that sector's recovery seemingly taking on additional momentum. Housing, which helped to lead the nation's uneven business advance in 2012, is likely to be in the vanguard of the presumptive U.S. economic recovery in 2013--and to an even greater extent this time around. The latest housing metrics, coming on the heels of other gains in industrial and consumer activity, suggest that GDP growth in the fast-ending quarter will easily top 2%, and could even approach the rarified air of 3%.

Then, in the afternoon, the market, already up modestly, received an additional boost when the Federal Reserve concluded its two-day FOMC meeting by promising to retain its accommodative monetary policies for some time, even as it also maintained that the economic fundamentals were improving. The good news from the Fed, as noted, stoked some additional buying, lifting the Dow Jones Industrial Average by just over 90 points at one time during the session, putting that 30-stock composite into record high territory on an intraday basis. However, the rally subsided a bit just as fast as it got under way, as the Dow finished up the day's action ahead by a somewhat more moderate 56 points. Still, it was a formidable overall advance, and suggested that the bulls were retaining a lot of life, even though valuations are getting ever-more stretched.

Meanwhile, among individual names also helping the market were Adobe Systems (ADBE), the software maker, which saw its stock jump on an improving forecast, and Williams-Sonoma (WSM), which rose better than 10% on better earnings and a dividend hike.

However, after the close, software giant Oracle (ORCL) posted less-than-stellar sales and earnings, and that tech behemoth is seeing its shares fade notably in the pre-market. To wit, that issue ended yesterday's action at $35.76 a share, but is now indicated to open the current session at about $33 a share.

As to the rest of the market, the European bourses are generally tracking lower this morning, following a mixed performance earlier last night in Asia. And over here, the futures tell a mixed story as well, with the S&P 500 Index futures essentially flat, while the NASDAQ futures are suggesting a small loss when trading resumes in less than an 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.