U.S. equity markets opened higher this morning but struggled to maintain even a flat performance compared to yesterday’s close. Before the markets opened this morning, the Mortgage Bankers Association noted a 14.8% rise in applications (more coverage here) and the ADP employment report came in better than expected (more coverage here). In Asia, the deputy governor of the country’s central bank suggested that a new repurchase operation may be enacted to drain liquidity from the system. In Europe, preliminary results for the fourth quarter indicated that eurozone GDP contracted by 0.6%, as expected (more coverage here). The afternoon release of the Fed’s Beige Book did not move markets much, as most Fed districts continue to report “modest to moderate” growth.
The U.S. dollar index rose 0.45% today, now at 82.461. The GSCI commodity index is up 0.9% at 645.94, with commodities prices mostly lower today. WTI crude oil closed down 0.4% today, at $90.43 a barrel following a larger than expected expansion of inventories (more coverage here). Brent crude trades down 0.6% at $110.99 a barrel. Natural gas is down 1.5% today at about $3.48 per million BTUs. Gold settled flat today at $1,574.90 an ounce.
The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA up nearly 43 points to 14,296.39 (0.30%), the NASDAQ fell about 2 points (-0.05%) to 3,222.37, and the S&P 500 rose 0.11% or nearly 2 points to 1,541.47.
There were a several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) cut to ‘neutral’ at Citigroup and cut to ‘perform’ at Oppenheimer; IntercontinentalExchange Inc. (NYSE: ICE) raised to ‘outperform’ at KBW; Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) raised to ‘buy’ at Jefferies; Qualcomm Corp. (NASDAQ: QCOM) maintained as ‘buy’ but removed from the Conviction Buy List at Goldman Sachs; and Vivus Inc. (NASDAQ: VVUS) started as ‘overweight’ at Piper Jaffray.
Earnings reports since markets closed last night resulted in several price moves today, including these: Gevo Inc. (NASDAQ: GEVO) is up 7% at $1.99; Qihoo 360 Technology Co. Ltd. (NYSE: QIHU) is down 7.8% at $32.09; Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. (NASDAQ: SWHC) is up 5% at $9.71 (more coverage here); Verifone Systems Inc. (NYSE: PAY) is up 7.9% at $20.77; American Eagle Outfitters Inc. (NYSE: AEO) is down 10.7% at $20.13; Big Lots Inc. (NYSE: BIG) is up 6.1% at $35.96 (more coverage here); Fresh Market Inc. (NASDAQ: TFM) is down 8.8% at $38.79 after posting a new 52-week low of $36.51 earlier today; Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. (NYSE: HOV) is down 3.9% at $5.86; Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS) is down 8.7% at $12.13 (more coverage here); and Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (NYSE: STP) is down 1.7% at $1.19 (more solar coverage here).
Before markets open tomorrow morning we are scheduled to hear from Alon USA Energy Inc. (NYSE: ALJ), PetSmart Inc. (NASDAQ: PETM), Vail Resorts Inc. (NYSE: MTN), Ciena Corp. (NASDAQ: CIEN), E Commerce China Dangdang Inc. (NASDAQ: DANG), James River Coal Co. (NASDAQ: JRCC), Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR), and Smithfield Foods Inc. (NYSE: SFD).
Some standouts from today include the following stocks:
MGIC Investment Corp. (NYSE: MTG) is up 3.6% at $5.53 after posting a new 52-week high of $6.19 earlier today. This marks the third consecutive day the insurance company continues to find favor with investors.
Petroleo Brasileiro SA (NYSE: PBR) is up 14.8% at $16.63. The Brazilian oil & gas firm known as Petrobras was allowed to raise its price for diesel fuel by 5% today.
BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY) is up 7.3% at $13.50. The mobile smartphone maker continues to get some love from analysts after its U.K. launch and a week ahead of its launch in the U.S.
Stay tuned for Thursday. Fed Governor Jerome Powell is giving a speech. Retail stores will be reporting February same-store sales throughout the day. We have also noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):
- 7:30 a.m. – Challenger job-cut report
- 8:30 a.m. – New claims for unemployment benefits
- 8:30 a.m. – International trade
- 8:30 a.m. – Productivity and costs
- 10:00 a.m. – Quarterly services survey
- 10:30 a.m. – EIA weekly natural gas storage report
- 3:00 p.m. – Consumer credit
- 4:30 p.m. – Fed balance sheet and money supply