U.S. equity markets opened higher this morning even though the number of new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected before markets opened (more coverage here). The news was more than offset by a much higher than expected Chinese trade balance (more coverage here). In Europe, both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank left key interest rates unchanged and France’s industrial production rose by 0.5% month-over-month in December. The news out of Europe has been overshadowed in the U.S. by all the coverage of the fiscal cliff and other looming economic crises, but the eurozone economies may be in better shape than you think (more coverage here).
The U.S. dollar index fell 1% today, now at 79.721. The GSCI commodity index is down 0.1% at 649.31, with commodities prices mostly higher today on the weaker greenback. WTI crude oil closed up 0.8% today, at $93.82 a barrel following a couple of encouraging signals (more coverage here). Brent crude trades up about 0.1% at $111.87 a barrel. Natural gas is down 2.3% today at about $3.19 per million BTUs following a larger than expected drawdown last week (more coverage here). Gold settled up 1.4% today at $1,678.00 an ounce, again attributable to the softer dollar.
The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA up nearly 81 points to 13,471.22 (0.60%), the NASDAQ about 16 points (0.51%) to 3,121.76, and the S&P 500 rose 0.76% or more than 11 points to 1,472.11.
There were a several analyst upgrades and downgrades of note today, including Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) reiterated as ‘buy’ and estimates raised at Argus; MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) cut to ‘neutral’ at Nomura; Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) cut to ‘equal weight’ at Morgan Stanley; Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) raised to ‘buy’ at Stifel Nicolaus; and Lululemon Athletica Inc. (NASDAQ: LULU) reiterated as ‘buy’ with a price target of $91 at Canaccord Genuity.
Earnings reports since markets closed last night resulted in some price moves today, including these as of the last half hour of trading: Ruby Tuesday Inc. (NYSE: RT) is down 5.7% at $7.84; Texas Industries Inc. (NYSE: TXI) is up 1.7% at $56.94; and Supervalu Inc. (NYSE: SVU) is up 13.7% at $3.46, following both good earnings and an announcement that the company has sold five of its store chains (more coverage here).
Just a reminder that tomorrow begins a new release schedule for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s monthly crop data report. Instead of the early morning data release before markets open for trading, the new schedule calls for the data to be released at 12 noon ET. Trading volume on the CBOT is expected to be heavier than usual around midday due to the schedule change.
Some standouts from today include the following stocks:
Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) is down 2.2% at $16.71. The natural gas producer could be hurt by a decision from France’s Total SA (NYSE: TOT) to stop spending on drilling for dry shale gas. More coverage here.
Herbalife Inc. (NYSE: HLF) is down 1.7% at $39.29. The weight loss and nutritional supplement seller defended itself today against charges from Pershing Square CEO William Ackman that it operates like a “pyramid scheme.” Investors weren’t totally convinced apparently. More coverage here.
Stay tuned for Friday. Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser is giving a speech. We have also noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):
- 8:30 a.m. – International trade
- 8:30 a.m. – Import and export prices
- 2:00 p.m. – Treasury budget