U.S. equity markets opened lower this morning following a weekend of confusion over the proposed solution to the banking problem in Cyprus. It’s not that Cyprus claims a particularly large banking system, but the proposed haircut for their depositors makes depositors everywhere wary (more coverage here). The Cypriot banking mess chilled markets in Asia and Europe today as well. There was little data released today, but the eurozone trade deficit came in higher than forecast and in China, house prices rose 2.1% month-over-month. In the U.S. the National Association of Home Builders index fell again in March, the second straight month of decline (more coverage here). U.S. financial stocks performed poorly today, while tech stocks posted a gain as speculation abounded that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) would seriously boost its dividend.
The U.S. dollar index rose 0.48% today, now at 82.654. The GSCI commodity index is up 0.4% at 652.50, with commodities prices mostly lower today on the stronger dollar. WTI crude oil closed up 0.3% today, at $93.74 a barrel. Brent crude trades down 0.2% at $109.57 a barrel. Natural gas is down 0.1% today at about $3.87 per million BTUs. Gold settled up 0.8% today at $1,604.60 an ounce, its first close above $1,600 this month.
The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA down about 62 points to 14,452.06 (-0.43%), the NASDAQ fell more than 11 points (-0.35%) to 3,237.59, and the S&P 500 fell -0.55% or nearly 9 points to 1,552.10.
There were a several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including Kimberly-Clark Corp. (NYSE: KMB) cut to ‘sell’ at Goldman Sachs; Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) raised to ‘buy’ at Citigroup (more coverage here); Royal Gold Inc. (NASDAQ: RGLD) started as ‘buy’ at BB&T; Arch Coal Inc. (NYSE: ACI) raised to ‘neutral’ at Nomura; and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) raised to ‘overweight’ at Morgan Stanley.
Earnings reports since markets closed last Friday resulted in several price moves today, including these: Syntroleum Corp. (NASDAQ: SYNM) is down 12.3% at $0.40; Celsion Corp. (NASDAQ: CLSN) is up 1.9% at $1.08; Hanwha Solarone Co. Ltd. (NASDAQ: HSOL) is up 5.7% at $0.93; Hastings Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ: HAST) is down 4.4% at $2.17; and Kior Inc. (NASDAQ: KIOR) is down 0.9% at $5.76.
Before markets open tomorrow morning we are scheduled to hear from FutureFuel Corp. (NYSE: FF), Star Bulk Carriers Corp. (NASDAQ: SBLK), FactSet Research Systems Inc. (NYSE: FDS), and Cintas Corp. (NASDAQ: CTAS).
Some standouts among heavily traded stocks today include:
Glu Mobile Inc. (NASDAQ: GLUU) is up 11.1% at $3.71. The mobile games developer has been upgraded by several analysts.
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) is up 6.6% at $16.50. The beleaguered retailer gets a boost today from an analyst’s plan to convert some of the company’s stores to a REIT.
Stay tuned for Tuesday. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) begins its two-day meeting. We have also noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):
8:30 a.m. – Housing starts
11:30 a.m. – 4-week bill auction