Stock prices plunged this morning and spent most of the day trading way down. The DJIA hovered around -300 points for most of the day, while the NASDAQ was off around -50 points and the S&P 500 wobbled around -30 points for most of the day. Today’s report on existing home sales was better than expected, but that was not enough to encourage investors to buy. Continuing concern over the state of Europe and a nearly unanimous belief that the US Congress’s super committee would fail to reach an agreement far outweighed any good news in the first half of the day. In mid-afternoon, Atlanta Federal Reserve president William Lockhart said that he did not foresee a second US recession, and put the likelihood of another recession at 30%. That gave the markets a bit of a bounce late in the day. Gold is down nearly -3%, at $1,674.40 and oil is down slightly to just under $97/barrel.

The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA down about 248 points to 11,547.23 (-2.11%), the NASDAQ fell more than 49 points (-1.92%) to 2,523.14, and the S&P 500 fell -1.86% or more than 22 points to 1,192.99.

There were several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) reiterated as ‘buy’ with a $500 price target at Credit Suisse. Other ratings actions included DeVry, Inc. (NYSE: DV) cut to ‘underperform’ and ‘Bear of the Day’ at Zack’s; Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) raised to ‘buy’ at Argus; Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM) reiterated as ‘buy’ with a $72 price target at Argus; Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) cut to ‘neutral’ at JPMorgan; and Western Digital Corp. (NYSE: WDC) raised to ‘overweight’ at Barclays.

Here are today’s big post-earnings news reactions with prices during the last half-hour of trading: Hastings Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ: HAST) was down more than -13%, at $1.65, after posting a new 52-week low of $1.55; Tech Data Corp. (NASDAQ: TECD) was down -0.9%, at $47.47, and Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE: TSN) was up about 0.3% at $19.51. We took a closer look at Tech Data’s earnings earlier today.

After markets close today and before they re-open for tomorrow, there will be an avalanche of earnings reports. Perhaps the most closely watched will be Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and a half dozen Chinese solar PV makers: JinkoSolar Holding Solar Co. Ltd. (NYSE: JKS), Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL), Canadian Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: CSIQ), JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. (NASDAQ: JASO), LDK Solar Co. Ltd. (NYSE: LDK), and Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (NYSE: STP). Shares in all these solar makers are down today, as investors anticipate the bad news that’s coming.

Several other standouts from today are as follows…

LinkedIn Corp. (NASDAQ: LNKD) is down more than -4%, at $68.95. The company’s 180-day lock-up period ended today, adding another 24 million shares of the company available for sale. LinkedIn tied up another 56 million shares for an additional 90 days or the damage could have been worse.

Pharmasset, Inc. (NASDAQ: VRUS) is up nearly 85%, at $134.03, after hitting a new 52-week high of $135. The company has agreed to be acquired by Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) for $11 billion.

Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ: GILD) is down nearly -9.7%, at $36.02, after posting a new 52-week low of $34.45. Investors tend to believe that Gilead is paying too much for Pharmasset.

Focus Media Holding Ltd. (NASDAQ: FMCN) is down nearly -39%, at $15.56. The Chinese advertising company is the target of a report by short-selling firm Muddy Waters alleging that Focus Media has signififcantly overstated the number of screens in its LCD network.

Global Education and Technology Group Ltd. (NASDAQ: GEDU) is up more than 97%, at $10.60, after posting a new 52-week high of $10.70. The company is being acquired by Pearson plc, owner of the Financial Times newspaper and other media properties.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN) is up more than 10%, at $55.02. The company received USDA approval for its eye drug Eylea.

Zillow, Inc. (NYSE: Z) is down more than -13%, at $23.52, after posting a new 52-week low of $22.55. There is no specific news about the company, but, like LinkedIn, a pile of shares will be available on the market when the company’s lock-up period ends in about another two months.

Stay tuned for Tuesday. In addition to the earnings reports we’ve mentioned, here’s a list of other noteworthy events (all times Eastern):

  • 7:45 a.m. – International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs retail sales report
  • 8:30 a.m. – US third-quarter GDP report revisions
  • 8:30 a.m. – BEA corporate profits report
  • 2:00 p.m. – Federal Open Market Committee minutes released

Paul Ausick

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