U.S. equity markets opened slightly lower this morning, rose briefly above the break-even line, and then slipped following a weaker-than-expected report on U.S. manufacturing PMI (more coverage here). In Asia, China’s PMI reading fell short of expectations as well (more coverage here), as did Japanese manufacturing and non-manufacturing indexes. There was no economic data from Europe today. U.S. construction spending rose in February, but the increase was due in large part to a downward revision in the January reading (more coverage here).
The U.S. dollar index fell 0.32% today, now at 82.715. The GSCI commodity index is down 0.4% at 655.05, with commodities prices mostly lower following last week’s report on more corn planting in the U.S. (more coverage here). WTI crude oil closed down 0.2% today, at $97.07 a barrel. Brent crude trades up 1% at $111.12 a barrel. Natural gas is down 0.2% today at about $4.02 per million BTUs. Gold settled down 0.7% today at $1,600.90 an ounce.
The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA down more than 5 points to 14,572.85 (-0.04%), the NASDAQ fell more than 28 points (0.87%) to 3,239.17, and the S&P 500 fell -0.45% or about 7 points to 1,562.17.
There were a several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) was cut to ‘market perform’ at JMP Securities; Range Resources Corp. (NYSE: RRC) was cut to ‘neutral’ but the price target was raised to $88 at Global Hunter Securities; Molson Coors Brewing Co. (NYSE: TAP) raised to ‘buy’ at Goldman Sachs; Clean Harbors Inc. (NYSE: CLH) raised to ‘outperform’ with a price target of $72 at Oppenheimer; and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. (NYSE: DD) started as ‘neutral’ at Credit Suisse.
Earnings reports since markets closed last Thursday resulted in a few price moves today, including these: Cal-Maine Foods Inc. (NASDAQ: CALM) is up 0.5% at $42.77 and Daqo New Energy Corp. (NYSE: DQ) is down 12% at $6.10.
Before markets open tomorrow morning we are scheduled to hear from McCormick & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MKC). Notable earnings reports will be much slower until next week when Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA) kicks off the next earnings season.
Some standouts among heavily traded stocks today include:
Quicksilver Resources Inc. (NYSE: KWK) is up 12.2% at $2.53. The independent oil & gas producer has sold a 25% stake in its Barnett shale assets to Tokyo Gas.
American Greetings Corp. (NYSE: AM) is up 12.2% at $18.06. The greeting card company is being taken private by its founding family.
Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) is down 6.1% at $3.16. The social game company had no news today, but a report yesterday that messaging apps may be replacing social networks like Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) among young people is having a negative effect on Zynga’s stock.
Stay tuned for Tuesday. Carmakers will be reporting March vehicle sales thoughout the day. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota and Chicago Fed President Charles Evans are giving speeches. We have also noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):
10:00 a.m. – Factory orders
11:30 a.m. – 4- and 52-week bill auctions