U.S. equity markets opened lower this morning following a higher-than-expected report of new claims for unemployment benefits (more coverage here). The news more than compensated for the afterglow of yesterday’s big gains and the better-than-expected ADP national employment report. In Asia, markets in Shanghai and Tokyo were closed again, but the Hong Kong market rose again to finish at its highest level in more than 18 months. China’s non-manufacturing PMI rose to 56.1, more than expected (more coverage here). In Europe, markets were mixed following a better-than-expected number for German unemployment, but that was offset by a jump of 50% in Greek bad loans. U.S. retailers reported mixed same-store sales initially this morning (more coverage here), but the final tally came in better than expected (more coverage here). Equities took a dive in the afternoon, following publication of the FOMC minutes, which noted that bond purchases by the Fed may be terminated in 2013 (more coverage here).
The U.S. dollar index rose 0.67% today, now at 80.358. The GSCI commodity index is up 0.9% at 652.56, with commodities prices mixed again today. WTI crude oil closed down 0.2% today, at $92.92 a barrel. Brent crude trades down 0.3% at $112.12 a barrel. Natural gas is down 1.1% today at about $3.20 per thousand cubic feet. Gold settled down 0.8% today at $1,674.60 an ounce.
The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA down more than 22 points to 13,390.05 (-0.17%), the NASDAQ fell more than 11 points (-0.37%) to 3,100.57, and the S&P 500 fell -0.21% or about 3 points to 1,459.34.
There were a several analyst upgrades and downgrades of note today, including Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) raised to ‘buy’ at Sterne Agee and ‘market perform’ at JMP Securities; Priceline.com Inc. (NASDAQ: PCLN) raised to ‘buy’ at BofA/ML; SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) raised to ‘buy’ at Lazard; Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) raised to ‘outperform’ at RBC; and Alcatel-Lucent SA (NYSE: ALU) raised to ‘neutral’ at Credit Suisse.
After U.S. markets close today and before they open again tomorrow we are scheduled to get earnings reports from Sonic Corp. (NASDAQ: SONC) and Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS). Earnings season begins in earnest next Tuesday, when Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) is scheduled to report results.
Some standouts from today include the following stocks:
SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) is up 43.9% at $8.82. The solar panel maker sold two projects to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) late yesterday (more coverage here) and shares were upgraded by one investment firm. The sale has renewed interest in the solar sector, with LDK Solar Co. Ltd. (NYSE: LDK), Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL), Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd. (NYSE: YGE), and Hanwha SolarOne Co. Ltd. (NASDAQ: HSOL) all trading up more than 15% today.
Longwei Petroleum Investment Holding Ltd. (NYSEMKT: LPH) is down 72.9% at $0.624 after posting a new 52-week low of $0.46 earlier today. The Chinese fuel distributor was the subject of a scathing report that called its “purported business operations … massively overstated and a brazen fraud.” Ouch.
Vringo Inc. (NYSEMKT: VRNG) is up 16.8% at $3.41. The intellectual property company is seen as having gained some ground in its lawsuit against Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) based on a comment Google made in a request for a postponement of a ruling setting an ongoing royalty payment from Google to Vringo.
Stay tuned for Friday. Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, Fed Vice-chair Janet Yellen, and St. Louis Fed President James Bullard are giving speeches. We have also noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):
- 8:30 a.m. – Employment situation
- 10:00 a.m. – Factory orders
- 10:00 a.m. – Institute for Supply Management non-manufacturing PMI
- 10:30 a.m. – EIA weekly natural gas storage report
- 11:00 a.m. – EIA weekly petroleum status report