24/7 Wall St. Closing Bell — August 22, 2012: Markets Sluggish Before FOMC Minutes (BBY, ZNGA, CZR, CLWR, MOS, DELL, ADI, INTU, KTCC, WTSLA, AEO, CHS, TOL, GES, HPQ, KKD, FLWS, BIG, HRL, JKS, SRZ, EXPR)

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The three major US stock indexes opened lower this morning after Japan reported an unexpected plunge in its exports in July (our coverage here). In Europe there was not economic news out today, and absent any good news European markets chose to sell off. The report on existing home sales in the US came in about as expected (our coverage here), while the weekly report on crude oil and gasoline inventories moved prices a little higher (our coverage here). Low trading volumes continue to raise the question of whether or not recent share price increases are permanent (our coverage here).The release of the FOMC’s minutes sent equities spiking briefly (our coverage here), but it was enough to boost the Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 indexes to finish slightly higher for the day.

The US dollar index fell today, now down 0.44% at 81.547. The GSCI commodity index is up 0.9% today at 675.55, with commodities prices mostly lower. WTI crude oil finished up 0.4% today, closing at $97.26/barrel. Brent crude trades up 0.05% at $114.70/barrel. Natural gas is up 1.8% today to $2.825/thousand cubic feet. Gold settled at $1,640.50/ounce, down 0.2%.

The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA down more than 31 points to 13,172.29 (-0.24%), the NASDAQ rose more than 6 points (0.21%) to 3,.73.67, and the S&P 500 rose 0.02% or less than 1 point to 1,413.51.

There were several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) cut to ‘underperform’ at Wedbush; Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) started as ‘neutral’ at Janney; Ceasars Entertainment Corp. (NASDAQ: CZR) started as ‘underweight’ at Barclays; Clearwire Corp. (NASDAQ: CLWR) cut to ‘underperform’ at RBC; and The Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS) started as ‘buy’ at Stifel Nicolaus.

Earnings reports since markets closed last night have led to some price changes as of the last half hour of trading today: Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) is down -5.2% at $11.70 after matching its 52-week low of $11.39 earlier today (more coverage here); Analog Devices Inc. (NASDAQ: ADI) is down 1.5% at $39.74; Intuit Inc. (NASDAQ: INTU) is up 1.3% at $59.74; Key Tronic Corp. (NASDAQ: KTCC) is up 22.5% at $9.80; American Eagle Outfitters Inc. (NYSE: AEO) is up 7% at $22.28 after posting a new 52-week high of $22.49 earlier today (more coverage here); Chico’s FAS Inc. (NYSE: CHS) is up 6.9% at $18.25 after posting a new 52-week high of $18.58 earlier today; and Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL) is up 4.4% at $33.20 after posting a new 52-week high of $33.65 earlier today (more coverage here).

Earnings releases are slowing down, but reports scheduled before tomorrow’s open include Guess? Inc. (NYSE: GES), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. (NYSE: KKD), 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. (NASDAQ: FLWS), Big Lots Inc. (NYSE: BIG), Hormel Foods Corp. (NYSE: HRL), and Jinkosolar Holding Co. Ltd. (NYSE: JKS).

Some standouts from today include the following stocks:

Sunrise Senior Living Inc. (NYSE: SRZ) is up 59.4% at $14.24 after posting a new 52-week high of $14.30 earlier today. The senior housing communities owner is being acquired by Health Care REIT Inc. in an all-cash deal valued at $1 billion. More coverage here.

Express Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPR) is down 11.2% at $15.00 after posting a new 52-week low of $14.94 earlier today. The specialty clothing and accessories retailer missed second-quarter expectations and cut its forecast again.

Wet Seal Inc. (NASDAQ: WTSLA) is down 9.5% at $2.77. The women’s specialty retailer reported inline results for the second quarter, but cut its estimates and adopted a shareholders’ rights plan.

Stay tuned for Thursday.We have noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):

8:30 a.m. – New claims for unemployment benefits
9:00 a.m. – Flash PMI manufacturing index
9:45 a.m. – Bloomberg consumer comfort index
10:00 a.m. – New home sales
10:00 a.m. – FHFA house price index
10:30 a.m. – EIA natural gas storage report
1:00 p.m. – 5-year TIPS auction
4:30 p.m. – Fed balance sheet and money supply

Paul Ausick

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