U.S. equity markets opened higher this morning but worries about a resolution to the banking crisis in Cyprus soon took over and pushed shares down. In other parts of Europe, Spain’s bad loan ratio rose to 10.78% in January and eurozone economic sentiment came in far below expectations. German 10-year bond yields fell on a rising dollar. In Asia, China’s central bank will drain 39 billion yuan in liquidity with a short-term repurchase agreement after foreign direct investment fell less than expected in the month. In the U.S., the report on housing starts was somewhat better than last month, with an annualized 917,000 new homes being built (more coverage here). The Cypriot parliament rejected a revised tax proposal on bank deposits (more coverage here), so it’s anyone’s guess what tomorrow may bring.
The U.S. dollar index rose 0.35% today, now at 82.983. The GSCI commodity index is down 0.3% at 650.30, with commodities prices mixed today. WTI crude oil closed down 1.7% today, at $92.16 a barrel. Brent crude trades down 1.8% at $107.50 a barrel. Natural gas is up 2.1% today at about $3.96 per million BTUs. Gold settled up 0.4% today at $1,611.30 an ounce.
The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA up about 4 points to 14,455.90 (0.03%), the NASDAQ fell more than 8 points (-0.26%) to 3,229.10, and the S&P 500 fell -0.24% or nearly 4 points to 1,548.35.
There were a several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) cut to ‘sell’ at Goldman Sachs; Rio Tinto plc (NYSE: RIO) cut to ‘sell’ at Goldman Sachs; Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) cut to ‘underperform’ at Sterne Agee (more coverage here); eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) raised to ‘buy’ with a price target of $56 at Cantor Fitzgerald; and Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA) cut to ‘hold’ at Needham.
Earnings reports since markets closed last night resulted in several price moves today, including these: FutureFuel Corp. (NYSE: FF) is down 9.2% at $12.40; Star Bulk Carriers Corp. (NASDAQ: SBLK) is up 5.7% at $6.50; FactSet Research Systems Inc. (NYSE: FDS) is down 5.6% at $92.52; and Walgreen Co. (NYSE: WAG) is up 5.2% at $44.65 (more coverage here).
Before markets open tomorrow morning we are scheduled to hear from Adobe Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: ADBE), Cintas Corp. (NASDAQ: CTAS), Fuel Tech Inc. (NASDAQ: FTEK), Williams-Sonoma Inc. (NYSE: WSM), FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX), General Mills Inc. (NYSE: GIS), and Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN).
Some standouts among heavily traded stocks today include:
Affymax Inc. (NASDAQ: AFFY) is down 62.6% at $1.09 after posting a new 52-week low of $1.02 earlier today. The drugmaker fired 75% of its workforce today and will begin exploring “strategic alternatives” including bankruptcy. More coverage here.
Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) is up 2.9% at $6.05 after posting a new 52-week high of $6.09 earlier today. The telecom company had no big news today, but led a sector that was up on a down day.
Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) is down 3.4% at $39.36. The oil field services company fell on comments from competitor Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB) that North American drilling activity was weaker in the first calendar quarter of the year. Halliburton depends far more heavily on North American drilling than does Schlumberger, hence the downturn.
Stay tuned for Wednesday. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) concludes its two-day meeting this afternoon. We have also noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):
- 7:30 a.m. – Mortgage Bankers Association purchase applications
- 10:30 a.m. – EIA weekly petroleum status report
- 2:00 p.m. – FOMC meeting announcement and forecast
- 2:30 p.m. – Ben Bernanke press conference