U.S. equity markets opened flat to lower this morning as it waited for data on U.S. housing starts and producer price inflation. In Europe, markets got some downward signals from a higher-than-expected reading on German PPI, a sharper-than-expected drop in Italian industrial production, a slightly higher unemployment rate in the U.K., and strikes in Greece (more coverage here). In Asia, the only data point of note came from China, where foreign direct investment declined by 7.3%. In the U.S., housing starts came in lower than expected, mainly the result of a sharp drop in multifamily building (more coverage here). The U.S. producer price index rose to its highest level since September. In the afternoon, the FOMC minutes were released, which pushed markets down even more (more coverage here).
The U.S. dollar index rose 0.75% today, now at 81.065. The GSCI commodity index is down 0.5% at 675.63, with commodities prices higher today. WTI March crude oil closed down 2.2% today, at $94.46 a barrel. The April contract closed down 1.9% at 95.22 and will be the source of the WTI quote for the next month. Brent crude trades down at 1.7% at $115.52 a barrel. Natural gas is up 0.4% today at about $3.28 per million BTUs. Gold settled down 1.6% today at $1,578.00 an ounce.
The unofficial closing bells put the DJIA down more than 109 points to 13,926.47 (-0.78%), the NASDAQ fell about 49 points (-1.53%) to 3,164.41, and the S&P 500 fell -1.24% or about 19 points to 1,511.90.
There were a several analyst upgrades and downgrades today, including Windstream Corp. (NASDAQ: WIN) cut to ‘sell’ at UBS; Lowe’s Companies (NYSE: LOW) reiterated as ‘buy’ and price target raised to $44 at Argus; Baidu Inc. (NASDAQ: BIDU) cut to ‘underperform’ at CLSA; Barclays PLC (NYSE: BCS) cut to ‘neutral’ at Goldman Sachs; and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (NASDAQ: GMCR) reiterated as ‘buy’ and price target raised to $54 at Argus.
Earnings reports since markets closed last night resulted in several price moves today, including these: Analog Devices Inc. (NASDAQ: ADI) is down 2.2% at $45.98; CF Industries Holdings Inc. (NYSE: CF) is down 5.3% at $206.88; Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) is up 0.25% at $XX (more coverage here); Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE: HLF) is down 5% at $37.77 (more coverage here); Avista Corp. (NYSE: AVA) is down 0.2% at $26.15; Clean Harbors Inc. (NYSE: CLH) is up 6.1% at $53.37; Dish Network Corp. (NASDAQ: DISH) is down 0.25% at $36.00; Leap Wireless International Inc. (NASDAQ: LEAP) is down 8.3% at $5.61; MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) is down 1.5% at $12.55; Sodastream International Ltd. (NASDAQ: SODA) is down 6.8% at $48.90 (more coverage here); and Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL) is down 8.7% at $33.71 (more coverage here).
After markets close today and before they open tomorrow morning we are scheduled to hear from Crocs Inc. (NASDAQ: CROX), Energy Transfer Partners LP (NYSE: ETP), Pan American Silver Corp. (NASDAQ: PAAS), Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA), Walter Energy Inc. (NYSE: WLT), Yamana Gold Inc. (NYSE: AUY), Carlyle Group LP (NASDAQ: CG), Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) (more coverage here), Coeur d’Alene Mines Corp. (NYSE: CDE), Ensco PLC (NYSE: ESV), Safeway Inc. (NYSE: SWY), and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT).
Some standouts from today include the following stocks:
OfficeMax Inc. (NYSE: OMX) is down 11.8% at $11.47 after posting a new 52-week high of $14.92 earlier today. The office supply retailer and Office Depot Inc. (NYSE: ODP) finally pulled the trigger on their merger after one false start this morning. Office Depot shares are down 22.1% at $3.91. More coverage here.
Netspend Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: NTSP) is up 28.6% at $15.80 after posting a new 52-week high of $15.96 earlier today. The pre-paid credit card provider has agreed to be acquired by Total System Services Inc. (NYSE: TSS) for about $1.4 billion in cash ($16 a share).
Stay tuned for Thursday. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, San Francisco Fed President John Williams, and Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher are giving speeches. We have also noted the following events on Tuesday’s schedule (all times Eastern):
8:30 a.m. – Consumer price index
8:30 a.m. – New claims for unemployment benefits
8:58 a.m. – Flash PMI manufacturing index
10:00 a.m. – Existing home sales
10:00 a.m. – Philadelphia Fed survey
10:00 a.m. – Leading indicators
10:30 a.m. – EIA weekly natural gas storage report
11:00 a.m. – EIA weekly petroleum status report
1:00 p.m. – 30-year Treasury Inflation-Protected securities (TIPS) auction
4:30 p.m. – Fed balance sheet and money supply