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After The Close - The U.S. stock market put in a modestly constructive session today. The bulls, which had displayed some strength earlier, became a bit fatigued during the mid-afternoon, but managed to pull through in the last hour. At the close of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 55 points; the broader S&P 500 Index gained six points; and the NASDAQ tacked on 26 points. Market breadth was slightly positive, as advancing stocks outnumbered decliners by a narrow margin on the NYSE. Further, all of the market sectors managed to advance, with particular strength in the consumer cyclical stocks. Technology issues had a selectively good day, too. Meanwhile, the high-yielding utilities were relative underperformers, yet again.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index remains just below the 1,700 mark, which seems to be an area of resistance. Notably, a sustained move through this level will be instrumental for the bulls.

Traders were likely happy with the day’s economic news. For one, the figures continue to suggest that nation’s employment situation is on the mend. Initial jobless claims for the week ended September 21st dipped to 305,000, which was a bit lower than the prior week’s reading and also slightly better than had been anticipated. Looking ahead to the end of next week, the employment report for the month of September is due out, and that will shed further light on the labor situation. Elsewhere, we received the final estimate for second-quarter GDP this morning, and that was just shy of expectations at 2.5%. Finally, on the housing front, pending home sales declined slightly during the month of August, after a nominal dip in July. However, that news was, more or less, as expected.

In the corporate arena, Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) stock traded higher after the home furnishings retailer put out a decent report. In the technology sector, Jabil Circuit (JBL) shares fell, as investors became concerned about its outlook. Meanwhile, shares of J.C. Penny (JCP) put in a volatile day, but ended higher, as the company indicated that it was pleased with its turnaround efforts. After the bell, newly-added Dow component Nike (NKE - Free Nike Stock Report) is set to release its 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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12:00 PM EST -  Stocks opened strongly today, following a five-day slump, but backed off in mid-morning, apparently on renewed fears that political discord might disrupt the economy. Right around the noon hour on the East Coast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 45 points and the NASDAQ is 20 points higher. Advancing issues are outpacing decliners by a healthy margin on the Big Board.

The day dawned with an improved political tone emanating out of Washington D.C., on indications that a potential government shutdown next week might be avoided.

The morning’s economic news was also firm to encouraging, with a second-quarter U.S. GDP report confirming a 2.5% growth rate and another tick down in weekly unemployment claims filings. Wall Street had expected a slight upward revision in the GDP report, but the progress was still solid.    

The promise on Capitol Hill and reasonably upbeat business news allowed stocks to post more than a 100-point gain within an hour after the opening bell. As the morning wore on, however, House Speaker John Boehner said in a press conference that his party would back a law tying an increase in how much government can borrow to cuts in federal spending. Those remarks seemed to take some steam out of the market’s rally, on the threat of divided government.

In corporate news, shares of NIKE (NKE - Free Nike Stock Report) are the biggest gainer in the Dow-30. The footwear giant is expected to report strong earnings after the closing bell.

The stock of Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) is also doing well today, hitting an all-time high. Investors cheered the company’s profit performance and the upbeat outlook the home furnishings company gave.

Tech stocks, such as Facebook (FB) and eBay (EBAY) are helping the NASDAQ outperform the Dow Jones Industrials. Facebook shares have enjoyed a big run as sentiment has done an about-face since the company’s tumultuous IPO. Meanwhile, eBay has announced that it will be acquiring online payments processor Braintree for $800 million. The move is expected to boost the mobile capabilities of eBay’ s PayPal unit.  

In other markets, oil is trading higher for the first time in five days, up $0.29 a barrel to around $103. And yields on government bonds are slightly higher, to 2.65% on the 10-year Treasury note, after recent declines.

Heading into afternoon trading, stocks are higher, but there is some tentativeness to the advance.   - Robert Mitkowski

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

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Stocks to Watch from The SurveyInvestors are digesting some earnings news this morning. On the bright side, shares of Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) are moving nicely higher ahead of the bell, after the home goods retailer reported solid August-Period results. On the other hand, Wall Street was not impressed with August-quarter results from electronics company Jabil Circuit (JBL), and that stock is moving lower in the premarket as a result. Shares of Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ) are showing even more weakness, after the car rental agency cut its full-year 2013 earnings forecast. 

Elsewhere, the stock of Caesars Entertainment (CZR) is indicating a notably lower opening this morning, after the hotel and casino operator announced plans to sell 10 million shares in a secondary equity offering. – 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 - The stock market opened up firmly yesterday; then proceeded to sell off soon thereafter; subsequently resumed its climb as the morning evolved; and then sold off anew around lunchtime. It then largely stayed in the loss column--most notably the Dow Jones Industrial Average--over the course of the afternoon, finally ended moderately in the loss column. Does this all sound familiar? It should, as this was essentially the track followed on Tuesday.

Once again, the key influence on trading was the continuing standoff in Washington over the budget, with the threatened government shutdown on October 1st still in the wings. Moreover, the nation's borrowing limit needs to be raised by October 17th. The ongoing dysfunction in Washington, along with concerns about the future direction of Federal Reserve monetary policy, has been dominating the Wall Street headlines in recent days. In all, the Dow and the Standard and Poor's 500 Index have now been lower for five days in a row, with the latest session affirming losses of 61 points on the 30-stock blue chip composite and five points for the broader based S&P 500 Index. Things are better on the NASDAQ, if incrementally so, and are notably stronger on the small- and-mid-cap front. Advancing and declining equities, meantime, are more mixed than weak, additionally attesting to the narrowness of the recent declines.

Meanwhile, on the business front in the latest session, the Commerce Department put out data showing just a negligible increase in orders for durable goods in August. However, that was a decided shift for the better following a July report, which had shown a sharp reversal in this volatile series that measures the ebb and flow of long lived manufactured goods produced in this country. Moreover, that same government agency 90 minutes later confirmed that new home sales had rebounded nicely in August, gaining almost 8% from the weak July figure. Still, sales are nearer to their lows for the year than not, as the earlier increases in mortgage rates--which have since reversed somewhat--have taken a modest toll on this very critical economic sector. Overall, though, housing remains in an irregular upward trend, especially on the price front.

Looking at the stock market, which has seen the Dow and the S&P, as noted, stay in the minus column for a handful of sessions in a row, the selling has been contained. In fact, when viewed against the backdrop of a strongly higher performance by equities so far this year, it hasn't been overly damaging, even on the Dow. For example, the major averages still hold double-digit gains for the year to date; we look to be in the early stages of selectively mild profit taking, at worst; we are nowhere near a full-blown correction; and valuations remain frothy, even after the recent modest pullback. Of note, the VIX volatility index continues to reside near the year's low, with yesterday's late reading of 13.91 within less than three points of its 52-week low. Such a low level would suggest that market confidence is high and the risks to the downside are considerable.

As to the focus of the equity market, it is logical that it is on Washington, as the Fed has just had its September FOMC meeting, and the next scheduled get together is not until late October. Also, some Fed officials are already noting that any tapering will not take place at that convening. Further, we are still a few weeks away from the peak of third-quarter earnings season. So, with this news vacuum of sorts, it is understandable that investor eyes would turn to the latest dealings in the contentious Capitol.

Finally, as we look ahead today, we find that stocks in Asia were mixed overnight, with gains in Japan and Australia, but losses in China and Hong Kong, while equities are generally lower in Europe thus far this morning. As to our futures, they are generally tracking higher thus far this morning, especially the NASDAQ, suggesting a modest rebound when trading commences in about 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.