Markets opened flat to lower this morning and stayed right around the break-even line most of the morning. The report on factory orders was weaker than expected(our coverage here), although new car sales are up sharply (our coverage here). The minutes of the FOMC’s March meeting quelled for now any thoughts of additional easing, and sent all three major indexes sharply lower (our coverage here). The US dollar index rose sharply today, now up 0.81% at 79.460. Commodities were mixed on the stronger dollar, with cocoa falling the most and cotton also down (our coverage here). WTI crude oil closed down -1.2% at $104.01/barrel, and Brent crude trades down -0.48% at $124.83/barrel. Gold settled down -0.5% today, at $1,672.00/ounce.

The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA down nearly 65 points to 13,199.55 (-0,49%), the NASDAQ fell more than 6 points (-0.20%) to 3,113.57, and the S&P 500 fell -0.41% or nearly 6 points to 1,413.29.

There were several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) started as buy at Auriga and target raised to $715 at Morgan Stanley; Express Scripts Inc. (NASDAQ: ESRX) started as ‘overweight’ at JPMorgan; Goldcorp Inc. (NYSE: GG) started as ‘neutral’ at Citigroup; Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) cut to ‘equal weight’ at Barclays; and Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB) raised to ‘buy’ at Sterne Agee.

Earnings reports since markets closed last night have led to some price changes as of the last half hour of trading today: Comverse Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: CMVT) is down -6.4% at $6.41; International Speedway Corp (NASDAQ: ISCA) is down -0.14% at $28.31; and Frisch’s Restaurants Inc. (AMEX: FRS) is down -0.04% at $27.29. After markets close today we get earnings from Team Inc. (NYSE: TISI) and Mitcham Industries Inc. (NASDAQ: MIND) markets. Before markets open tomorrow we’ll get earnings from Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) and Acuity Brands Inc. (NYSE: AYI).

Other standouts from today include the following stocks:

SmartHeat Inc. (NASDAQ: HEAT) is up 93% at $5.29. The Chinese maker of heat exchangers reported weak earnings, but promised to cut costs and do better. More coverage here.

First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) is down about -8% at $22.56 after posting a new 52-week low of $22.42 earlier today. The solar panel maker is simply dying a slow death. More coverage here.

Vringo Inc. (AMEX: VRNG) is up 5.8% at $3.28 after posting a new 52-week high of $4.05 earlier today. The ringtone company is merging with a patent protection firm and this is the second day in a row that shares have posted a new high. Here’s our story from yesterday.

A123 Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: AONE) is down more than -16% at $0.85, the second consecutive day for the shares to put up a new 52-week low. The battery maker is still getting walloped over a recall and its relationship with Fisker Automotive. Here’s our story from yesterday.

Merge Healthcare Inc. (NASDAQ: MRGE) is down more than -16% at $4.95. The healthcare kiosk provider has agreed to sell $2.75 million worth of kiosks to a company controlled by Merge’s chairman.

Conn’s Inc. (NASDAQ: CONN) is up about 14.5% at $18.88 after posting a new 52-week high of $19.75. The regional electronics retailer busted through earnings expectations.

Stay tuned for Wednesday. San Francisco Fed President John Williams is giving a speech. We have also noted the following events on the schedule (all times Eastern):

  • 7:00 a.m. – Mortgage Bankers’ Association purchase applications
  • 7:30 a.m. – Challenger Gray & Christmas layoff report
  • 8:15 a.m. – ADP employment report
  • 10:00 a.m. – Institute for Supply Management non-manufacturing index
  • 10:30 a.m. – EIA weekly petroleum status report

Paul Ausick