Showing posts with label World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World. Show all posts

Wall Street advances as data outweighs budget cuts

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks advanced modestly on Friday, leaving the S&P 500 with slight gains in a volatile week as strong economic data overshadowed growth concerns in China and Europe and let investors discount the impact of expected government spending cuts.


Stocks opened sharply lower for the session as Asian factories slowed and European output fell, but most of the losses evaporated after a report showed manufacturing activity expanded last month at its fastest clip in 20 months.


Consumer sentiment also rose in February as Americans turned more optimistic about the job market.


With $85 billion in government budget cuts set to begin, President Barack Obama blamed Republicans for failure to reach a compromise to avert the cuts, known as sequester. But the stock market appeared to have already priced in the failure by legislators to reach an agreement.


"We were able to dig out of that hole, but not make any great strides on it either," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois. "We will probably be in a holding pattern pending some big development on a broader budget deal."


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 35.17 points, or 0.25 percent, to 14,089.66 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> added 3.52 points, or 0.23 percent, to 1,518.20. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> advanced 9.55 points, or 0.30 percent, to 3,169.74.


For the week, the Dow rose 0.6 percent, the S&P 500 edged up 0.2 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.3 percent.


The slight gains for equities came during a volatile week that saw markets decline on Monday after uncertain Italian elections, only to rebound in the next two sessions as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the central bank's stimulus measures.


The low interest rates due to the Federal Reserve's accommodative monetary policy have helped equities continue to attract investors. The Dow is less than 1 percent away from its all-time intraday high of 14,198.10. Declines have been shallow and short-lived, with investors jumping in to buy on dips.


Intuitive Surgical jumped 8.5 percent to $553.40 after Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Jeremy Feffer upgraded the stock, saying the stock's slide of more than 11 percent on Thursday was a gross overreaction to a news report.


Groupon Inc surged 12.6 percent to $5.10 a day after the online coupon company fired its chief executive officer in the wake of weak quarterly results.


Gap Inc rose 2.9 percent to $33.87 after the clothing retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations and boosting its dividend by 20 percent, while Salesforce.com Inc posted sales that beat forecasts, driving its stock up 7.6 percent to $182.


Chesapeake Energy Corp fell 2.4 percent to $19.67 after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission escalated its investigation into the company and its Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon for a controversial perk that granted him a share in each of the natural gas producer's wells.


Volume was modest with about 6.72 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, slightly above the daily average of 6.5 billion.


Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 17 to 13, while on the Nasdaq, seven stocks rose for about every five stocks that fell.


(Editing by Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Wall Street ends flat after late fade; S&P up for fourth month

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks ended flat on Thursday, giving up modest gains late in the session, denying the Dow a chance to inch closer to all-time highs.


The S&P 500 still managed to close out February with a fourth straight month of gains. JC Penney Co Inc was the day's biggest loser, falling 17 percent to $17.57 after the department store operator reported a steep drop in sales.


The U.S. economy grew slightly in the fourth quarter, a turnaround from an earlier estimate showing contraction, and a drop in new claims for unemployment benefits last week added to a batch of data suggesting the economy continues its sluggish improvement.


The Dow was within striking distance of its record high after a year-to-date advance of more than 7 percent. The Dow's record closing high, set on October 9, 2007, stands at 14,164.53, while the Dow's intraday record high, set on October 11, 2007, stands at 14,198.10.


The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt>, seen as a bet on future growth, is up 12.9 percent this year, and the 20-stock index hit a record intraday high earlier on Thursday.


"To push through to new highs, you would have to see consistent positive economic data in the U.S. and have Europe stabilize - those are two pretty big requirements," said Jeff Morris, head of U.S. equities at Standard Life Investments in Boston.


"It wouldn't surprise me to see us bounce around as we have the past couple of weeks," Morris added.


Volume was low for most of the session until quarterly index-rebalancing activity hit the tape at the very close of trading.


After a strong January with gains of more than 5 percent, both the Dow and the S&P 500 found gains tougher to come by in February. Minutes from the Federal Reserve's January meeting sparked concerns that the central bank may pull back on its stimulus measures sooner than expected, while looming U.S. budget cuts and turbulent Italian elections tempered investors' aggressiveness.


But concerns about Fed policy were eased by testimony from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke before a congressional committee earlier this week, as he defended the policy of buying bonds to keep interest rates low to boost growth, despite worries some have about possible inflation.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> shed 20.88 points, or 0.15 percent, to 14,054.49 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 1.31 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,514.68. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> fell 2.07 points, or 0.07 percent, to end at 3,160.19.


For the month, the Dow rose 1.4 percent, the S&P 500 gained 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.6 percent.


Limited Brands and Netflix ranked among the best-performing consumer stocks. Shares of Limited Brands, the parent of retailers Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, gained 2.3 percent to $45.52. The stock of video streaming service Netflix climbed 2 percent to $$188.08.


In contrast, shares of Groupon Inc fell on weak revenue, with the daily deals company's tumbling 24.3 percent to $4.53.


Cablevision slumped 9.6 percent to $13.99 after the cable provider took a $100 million hit on costs related to Superstorm Sandy and posted deeper video customer losses than expected.


On a positive note, Mylan Inc gained 3.6 percent to $29.61 after the generic drugmaker posted a 25 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit and said it will buy a unit of India's Strides Arcolab Ltd.


Investors were keeping an eye on the debate in Washington over U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting Friday if lawmakers fail to reach agreement on spending and taxes. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders arranged last-ditch talks to prevent the cuts, but expectations were low that any deal would emerge.


Volume was modest with about 6.81 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, slightly above the daily average of 6.46 billion.


Advancing stocks slightly outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,518 to 1,446. On the Nasdaq, the decliners had a slight edge, with 1,247 shares falling and 1,201 stocks rising.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Wall Street rebounds on Bernanke comments, data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rebounded from their worst decline since November on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the Fed's bond-buying stimulus and sales of new homes hit a 4 1/2-year high.


The S&P 500 had climbed 6 percent for the year and came within reach of all-time highs before the minutes from the Fed's January meeting were released last Wednesday. Since then, the benchmark S&P 500 has fallen 1 percent.


Bernanke, in testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee, strongly defended the Fed's bond-buying stimulus program and quieted rumblings that the central bank may pull back from its stimulative policy measures, which were sparked by the release of the Fed minutes last week.


Bernanke's comments helped ease investors' concerns about a stalemate in Italy after a general election failed to give any party a parliamentary majority, posing the threat of prolonged instability and financial crisis in Europe, and sending the S&P 500 to its worst decline since November 7 in Monday's session.


Bernanke "certainly said everything the market needed to feel in order to get comfortable again," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital in Jersey City, New Jersey.


"The fear is we were going to see a rollover, and the first shot over the bow was what we saw out of Italy yesterday with the elections," Kenny said. "When it came to U.S. markets, we saw some of that bleeding stop because our focus shifted from the Italian political circus to Ben Bernanke."


Gains in homebuilders and other consumer stocks, following strong economic data, lifted the S&P 500, and a 5.7 percent jump in Home Depot to $67.56 boosted the Dow industrials. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> rose 3.2 percent.


Economic reports that showed strength in housing and consumer confidence also supported stocks. U.S. home prices rose more than expected in December, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index. Consumer confidence rebounded in February, jumping more than expected, and new-home sales rose to their highest in 4-1/2 years in January.


However, the central bank chairman also urged lawmakers to avoid sharp spending cuts set to go into effect on Friday, which he warned could combine with earlier tax increases to create a "significant headwind" for the economic recovery.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 115.96 points, or 0.84 percent, to 13,900.13 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> rose 9.09 points, or 0.61 percent, to 1,496.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> advanced 13.40 points, or 0.43 percent, to close at 3,129.65.


Despite the bounce, the S&P 500 was unable to move back above 1,500, a closely watched level that was technical support until recently, but could now serve as a resistance point.


The CBOE Volatility Index <.vix> or the VIX, a barometer of investor anxiety, dropped 11.2 percent, a day after surging 34 percent, its biggest percentage jump since August 18, 2011.


The uncertainty caused by the Italian elections continued to weigh on stocks in Europe. The FTSEurofirst-300 index of top European shares <.fteu3> closed down 1.4 percent. The benchmark Italian index <.ftmib> tumbled 4.9 percent.


Home Depot gave the biggest boost to the Dow and provided one of the biggest lifts to the S&P 500 after the world's largest home improvement chain reported adjusted earnings and sales that beat expectations.


Macy's shares gained 2.8 percent to $39.59 after the department-store chain stated it expects full-year earnings to be above analysts' forecasts because of strong holiday sales.


Volume was active with about 7.08 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, above the daily average of 6.48 billion.


Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of about 2 to 1, while on the Nasdaq, three stocks rose for every two that fell.


(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal; Editing by Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Wall Street trips and falls on cloudy Italian election

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks on Monday suffered their biggest drop since November after a strong showing in Italian elections by groups opposed to the country's economic reforms triggered worry that Europe's debt problems could once again destabilize the global economy.


The decline marks the biggest percentage drop for the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index since November7, and drove the S&P down to its lowest close since January 18. The CBOE Volatility Index <.vix> or VIX, Wall Street's favorite barometer of fear, surged 34 percent, its biggest jump since August 18, 2011.


Selling accelerated late in the trading session after the S&P 500 fell below the 1,500 level, which has acted as a significant support point. Monday marked the S&P's first close under 1,500 since February 4.


Italy's center-left coalition holds a slim lead over former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right bloc in the election for the lower house of parliament, three TV projections indicated. But any government must also command a majority in the Senate, a race that is decided by region.


The resulting gridlock in parliament could lead to new elections and cast into doubt Italy's ability to pay down its debt.


"Europe hasn't gone away as an issue, it is going to hang around, and it is rearing its ugly head today," said Stephen Massocca, managing director of Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.


"If someone gets elected who is simply not going to play by the rules, what are they going to do? It puts them in a real quandary here because their financial support, their monetary support is all stipulated by the fact that these austerity programs are going to be in place."


Earlier polls pointing to a center-left victory boosted stocks in Milan and other European markets, and also helped lift the S&P 500 to a session high of 1,525.84 on optimism that Italy would continue down its austerity path.


After a strong start to the year, equities have retreated more recently. The S&P 500's slight fall last week was its first weekly drop after a seven-week string of gains.


In Monday's volatile session, banks and other financial stocks were among the worst performers on worries about the sector's exposure to Italy's massive debt. The KBW Bank Index <.bkx> fell 2.7 percent.


The CBOE Volatility Index <.vix> ended at 18.99, up 34.02 percent.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> dropped 216.40 points, or 1.55 percent, to 13,784.17 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 27.75 points, or 1.83 percent, to 1,487.85. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> fell 45.57 points, or 1.44 percent, to 3,116.25.


Although the overall market lost ground on Monday, there were a few bright spots.


Barnes & Noble Inc shares shot up 11.5 percent to $15.06 after the bookseller's chairman offered to buy its declining retail business.


Amgen Inc shares climbed 3.1 percent to $89.55, after rival Affymax issued a voluntary recall of its only drug, an anemia treatment that competes with Amgen's top-selling red blood cell booster, Epogen. Affymax shares lost 85.4 percent to $2.42.


The FTSEurofirst-300 index of top European shares <.fteu3> edged up 0.04 percent and Italy's main FTSE MIB <.ftmib> ended up 0.7 percent after earlier gaining nearly 4 percent.


Political uncertainty on the home front, though, is also on Wall Street's mind.


U.S. equities will face a test with the looming debate over so-called sequestration - U.S. government budget cuts that will take effect starting on Friday if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement over spending and taxes. The White House issued warnings about the harm the cuts are likely to inflict on the economy if enacted.


"Sitting out there is the one-thousand-pound gorilla - the sequester issue - and certainly nothing is happening there," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.


Lowe's Companies Inc lost 4.8 percent to $35.86 after the home improvement retailer posted fourth-quarter earnings.


With 83 percent of the S&P 500 companies having reported results so far, 69 percent beat profit expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Volume was active with about 7.27 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE MKT and Nasdaq, above the daily average of 6.46 billion.


Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on both the NYSE and the Nasdaq by a ratio of about 4 to 1.


(Editing by Kenneth Barry, Nick Zieminski and Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Asian shares edge higher, yen falls on BOJ report

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares edged higher on Monday, with investors still picking up shares battered by last week's steep plunge, while the yen fell to fresh lows on news a reflationary advocate could head the Bank of Japan next month.


The news Japan's government is likely to nominate Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda, an advocate of aggressive monetary easing, as its next central bank governor, is set to be a major factor in financial markets this week.


Markets are pondering whether Italy's weekend elections will produce a stable government, and the implications of that for euro zone cohesion, while Moody's credit downgrade on Britain will play on confidence in the pound and government bonds.


Investors also await testimony on Tuesday from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for further clues of when the Fed may slow or stop buying bonds. Financial markets were rattled last week after minutes of the Fed's January meeting suggested some Fed officials were mulling scaling back its strong monetary stimulus earlier than expected.


The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> was up 0.1 percent, pulled higher by Australian shares <.axjo> which gained 0.6 percent on reassuring comments from U.S. Federal Reserve officials on the bank's current stimulus program, which has helped underpin risk sentiment globally.


South Korean shares <.ks11> opened up 0.2 percent, with the nation's new leader, who has shown willingness to talk down the won, being sworn in on Monday.


Tokyo's Nikkei stock average <.n225> opened 1.6 percent higher. <.t/>


Early on Monday, the yen touched its lowest since May 2010 of 94.61 yen against the dollar, while the euro rose to a high of 124.83 yen, still off its 34-month peak of 127.71 set early this month.


The Nikkei newspaper reported the Japanese government is likely to nominate Haruhiko Kuroda and Kikuo Iwata, both vocal advocates of aggressive monetary expansion, as BOJ governor and deputy governor.


The dollar fell sharply to below 93 yen last week on media reports that Toshiro Muto, a former financial bureaucrat perceived as less willing to take unconventional steps, was the frontrunner candidate for the top BOJ job.


"The dollar's move this morning is merely a rebound from disappointment on Muto last week. I don't think this topic will be enough to hoist the dollar above 95 yen," said Hiroshi Maeba, head of FX trading Japan at UBS in Tokyo. "No matter who is elected at the BOJ, it will not affect the longer-term trend of a weak yen," he said.


Speculation over the BOJ has been a key factor driving the yen lower recently due to anticipation for strong reflationary measures, but other fundamental factors such as Japan's deteriorating trade balances and signs of firmer U.S. growth also supported a weakening yen trend.


Abe told Americans on Friday "I am back and so is Japan" and vowed to get the world's third biggest economy growing again.


Investors remained cautious before the full official results of Italy's elections come out on Tuesday, worried a potential political stalemate could impede Rome's progress on fiscal reforms.


The euro was up 0.1 percent to $1.3192, off Friday's six-week low of $1.31445.


Sterling fell to a 31-month low of $1.5073 early on Monday and a record low against the New Zealand dollar at NZ$1.8025 following Friday's one-notch downgrade of Britain's prized triple-A sovereign rating by Moody's.


Investors will also seek signs of recovery from the flash estimate of China's manufacturing PMI from HSBC/Markit due later in the session.


Wall Street ended higher on Friday, boosted strong earnings from Dow component Hewlett-Packard , but the benchmark Standard & Poor's Index <.spx> posted its first weekly decline of the year. European shares rose on Friday after data showed German business morale surged at its fastest pace in over two years in February.


Hedge funds and other big speculators cut their bullish bets on U.S. commodities by nearly $13 billion, the most in about 10 months, in the week to February 19 to $69 billion, just before oil and metals prices tumbled last week on rumors a commodities fund was dumping positions, trade data showed on Friday.


U.S. crude was up 0.1 percent to $93.26 a barrel.


(Editing by Eric Meijer)



Read More..

Investors face another Washington deadline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors face another Washington-imposed deadline on government spending cuts next week, but it's not generating the same level of fear as two months ago when the "fiscal cliff" loomed large.


Investors in sectors most likely to be affected by the cuts, like defense, seem untroubled that the budget talks could send stocks tumbling.


Talks on the U.S. budget crisis began again this week leading up to the March 1 deadline for the so-called sequestration when $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts are scheduled to take effect.


"It's at this point a political hot button in Washington but a very low level investor concern," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego, Oregon. The fight pits President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats against congressional Republicans.


Stocks rallied in early January after a compromise temporarily avoided the fiscal cliff, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> has risen 6.3 percent since the start of the year.


But the benchmark index lost steam this week, posting its first week of losses since the start of the year. Minutes on Wednesday from the last Federal Reserve meeting, which suggested the central bank may slow or stop its stimulus policy sooner than expected, provided the catalyst.


National elections in Italy on Sunday and Monday could also add to investor concern. Most investors expect a government headed by Pier Luigi Bersani to win and continue with reforms to tackle Italy's debt problems. However, a resurgence by former leader Silvio Berlusconi has raised doubts.


"Europe has been in the last six months less of a topic for the stock market, but the problems haven't gone away. This may bring back investor attention to that," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.


OPTIONS BULLS TARGET GAINS


The spending cuts, if they go ahead, could hit the defense industry particularly hard.


Yet in the options market, bulls were targeting gains in Lockheed Martin Corp , the Pentagon's biggest supplier.


Calls on the stock far outpaced puts, suggesting that many investors anticipate the stock to move higher. Overall options volume on the stock was 2.8 times the daily average with 17,000 calls and 3,360 puts traded, according to options analytics firm Trade Alert.


"The upside call buying in Lockheed solidifies the idea that option investors are not pricing in a lot of downside risk in most defense stocks from the likely impact of sequestration," said Jared Woodard, a founder of research and advisory firm condoroptions.com in Forest, Virginia.


The stock ended up 0.6 percent at $88.12 on Friday.


If lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on reducing the U.S. budget deficit in the next few days, a sequester would include significant cuts in defense spending. Companies such as General Dynamics Corp and Smith & Wesson Holding Corp could be affected.


General Dynamics Corp shares rose 1.2 percent to $67.32 and Smith & Wesson added 4.6 percent to $9.18 on Friday.


EYES ON GDP DATA, APPLE


The latest data on fourth-quarter U.S. gross domestic product is expected on Thursday, and some analysts predict an upward revision following trade data that showed America's deficit shrank in December to its narrowest in nearly three years.


U.S. GDP unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter, according to an earlier government estimate, but analysts said there was no reason for panic, given that consumer spending and business investment picked up.


Investors will be looking for any hints of changes in the Fed's policy of monetary easing when Fed Chairman Ben Bernake speaks before congressional committees on Tuesday and Wednesday.


Shares of Apple will be watched closely next week when the company's annual stockholders' meeting is held.


On Friday, a U.S. judge handed outspoken hedge fund manager David Einhorn a victory in his battle with the iPhone maker, blocking the company from moving forward with a shareholder vote on a controversial proposal to limit the company's ability to issue preferred stock.


(Additional reporting by Doris Frankel; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



Read More..

Wall Street rebounds on HP results, Fed officials' views

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Friday as Dow component Hewlett-Packard surged on strong results and comments from Fed officials allayed fears that the central bank would curtail its stimulus measures.


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke downplayed worries that the Fed has fueled asset bubbles that could hurt the economy in a private meeting with bond dealers and investors earlier this month, Bloomberg reported on Friday.


Bernanke's view helped ease fears that the central bank may end its easy money policies. Minutes from the Federal Reserve's January meeting hit markets on Wednesday as investors interpreted divergent opinions on the benefit of stimulus as a sign the measures may be halted sooner than thought.


"They are in uncharted territory with divergent views," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago. "I could see some pretty heated opinions on what the ultimate outcome is, so I do believe there is dissension."


Hewlett-Packard Co shares jumped more than 12 percent and gave one of the biggest boosts to both the Dow and the S&P 500 after the personal computer maker's quarterly revenue and forecasts beat expectations. Hewlett-Packard's stock rose to $19.20 at the close, up 12.3 percent for the day.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 119.95 points, or 0.86 percent, to 14,000.57 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> rose 13.18 points, or 0.88 percent, to 1,515.60. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> added 30.33 points, or 0.97 percent, to end at 3,161.82.


With Bernanke's reported comments much on their minds in Friday's session, investors will want the Fed chairman to reiterate his remarks publicly when he speaks before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. That would echo comments made by two top Fed officials on Friday.


Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren and Fed Governor Jerome Powell both defended the U.S. central bank's asset-buying program, arguing that the policy helps the U.S. economy.


The S&P 500 shed 1.9 percent over the previous two sessions, its worst two-day drop since early November, following the release of the Fed's minutes on Wednesday. The selloff marked the end of seven back-to-back weeks of gains for stocks.


For the week, the S&P 500 slipped 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq lost nearly 1 percent. Only the Dow ended the week with a gain - up just 0.1 percent.


HP's results come near the end of a relatively strong earnings season in which 70 percent of S&P 500 companies beat analysts' expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data.


"Overall, the earnings supports were better than expected in this cycle," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois. "We may see the market rising during the month of March."


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 6 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


But with only a handful of companies left to report earnings, investors are looking ahead to the possibility of hefty automatic budget cuts that could happen on March 1.


A large option investor appeared to be adjusting a bearish view on the SPDR S&P 500 Trust fund while locking in previously established gains, in a possible hedge ahead of the automatic budget cuts that are set to take effect at the beginning of next month. The play involved weekly puts, expiring next Friday.


"An institutional investor appears to be rolling down and increasing in size a defensive hedge timed to match the March 1 deadline for the sequester," said Henry Schwartz, president of options analytics firm Trade Alert.


The trader sold 132,000 $149 to $150 weekly put spreads for 22 cents as shares of the exchange-traded fund had traded near $151.14 on Friday morning. The transaction entailed the sale of $150 weekly puts to buy the $149 weekly puts. In addition, the investor purchased another 42,000 $149 weekly puts, which increases the size of the hedge to 174,000 contracts.


"It is likely this large position protects an existing underlying long position in a portfolio," Schwartz said.


In another political risk factor, Italians go to the polls this weekend in an election that could threaten reforms in the indebted country. Silvio Berlusconi's resurgence has thrown the vote wide open, with deep uncertainty over whether the poll can produce the strong government the country needs.


Inconclusive Greek elections last year sparked a protracted selloff and a period of uncertainty in markets.


In the tech sector, Marvell Technology Group Ltd forecast results this quarter that were largely above analysts' expectations. Marvell gained market share in the hard-disk drive and flash-storage businesses. The stock rose 4.4 percent to $9.89.


Texas Instruments Inc raised its dividend by a third and boosted its stock-buyback program, driving its stock up 5.2 percent to $34.18.


The PHLX semiconductor index <.sox> gained 2.1 percent.


"Dividends growing are another way the market's level is justified, if not especially attractive at these levels," said Rex Macey, chief investment officer of Wilmington Trust in Atlanta, who manages about $20 billion in assets.


On the downside, Abercrombie & Fitch dropped 4.5 percent to $46.86 after the youth-oriented clothing retailer reported a drop in fourth-quarter comparable sales, even as its latest quarterly earnings topped estimates.


Insurer American International Group Inc posted fourth-quarter results that beat analysts' expectations. AIG's stock advanced 3.1 percent to $38.45.


About three stocks rose for every one that fell on both the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.


Around 5.8 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the 20-day moving average of around 6.51 billion shares.


(Additional Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica and Doris Frankel; Editing by Kenneth Barry and Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Wall Street ends lower on growth worries

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell for a second straight day on Thursday and the S&P 500 posted its worst two-day loss since November after reports cast doubt over the health of the U.S. and euro-zone economies.


But a late-day rally helped stocks erase some of their losses with most of the pullback concentrated in the technology- heavy Nasdaq. The move suggested investors were still willing to buy on dips even after the sharp losses in the last session.


In Europe, business activity indexes dealt a blow to hopes that the euro zone might emerge from recession soon, showing the downturn across the region's businesses unexpectedly grew worse this month.


"The PMI numbers out of Europe were really a blow to the market," said Jack De Gan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. "The market was expecting signs that recovery is still there, but the numbers just highlighted that the euro-zone problem is still persistent."


U.S. initial claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week while the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said its index of business conditions in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region fell in February to the lowest in eight months.


Gains in Wal-Mart Stores Inc shares helped cushion the Dow. The shares gained 1.5 percent to $70.26 after the world's largest retailer reported earnings that beat expectations, though early February sales were sluggish.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> fell 46.92 points, or 0.34 percent, to 13,880.62 at the close. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 9.53 points, or 0.63 percent, to 1,502.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> dropped 32.92 points, or 1.04 percent, to close at 3,131.49.


The two-day decline marked the U.S. stock market's first sustained pullback this year. The Standard & Poor's 500 has fallen 1.8 percent over the period and just managed to hold the 1,500 level on Thursday. Still, the index is up 5.3 percent so far this year.


The abrupt reversal in markets, which started on Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's January meeting suggested stimulus measures may end earlier than thought, looks set to halt a seven-week winning streak for stocks that had lifted the Dow and the S&P 500 close to all-time highs.


Wall Street will soon face another test with the upcoming debate in Washington over the automatic across-the-board spending cuts put in place as part of a larger congressional budget fight. Those cuts, set to kick in on March 1 unless lawmakers agree on an alternative, could depress the economy.


Semiconductor stocks ranked among the weakest of the day, pressuring the Nasdaq as the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index <.sox> fell 1.8 percent. Intel Corp fell 2.3 percent to $20.25 while Advanced Micro Devices lost 3.7 percent to $2.60 as the S&P 500's biggest percentage decliner.


The Dow also got a helping hand from personal computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co , which rose 2.3 percent to end the regular session at $17.10. The company was scheduled due to report first-quarter results after the closing bell.


Shares of Boeing Co rose 1.6 percent to $76.01 as a senior executive was set to meet with the head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Friday and present a series of measures to prevent battery failures that grounded its 787 Dreamliner fleet, according to a source familiar with the plans.


In other company news, shares of supermarket operator Safeway Inc jumped 14.1 percent to $22.97 after the company reported earnings that beat expectations.


Shares of VeriFone Systems Inc tumbled nearly 43 percent to $18.24 after the credit-card swipe machine maker forecast first- and second-quarter profits well below expectations.


Of the 427 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results so far, 69.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 5.9 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Berry Petroleum Co jumped 19.3 percent to $46.02 after oil and gas producer Linn Energy LLC said it would buy the company in an all-stock deal valued at $4.3 billion, including debt. Linn Energy shares advanced 2.8 percent to $37.68.


About two stocks fell for everyone that rose on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. About 7.64 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, well above the 20-day moving average of around 6.6 billion shares.


(Editing by Jan Paschal)



Read More..

Wall Street ends down sharply after Fed minutes

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend, "Doug" (24), and I (22) have been in a long-distance relationship for a year, but we were friends for a couple of years before that. I had never had a serious relationship before and lacked experience. Doug has not only been in two other long-term relationships, but has had sex with more than 15 women. One of them is an amateur porn actress.I knew about this, but it didn't bother me until recently. Doug had a party, and while he was drunk he told one of his buddies -- in front of me -- that he should watch a certain porn film starring his ex-girlfriend. ...
Read More..

M&A deals lift Wall Street shares nearer a record high

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday as this year's ongoing surge in merger activity suggested investors were still finding value in the market even as indexes closed in on all-time highs.


Office Depot Inc surged 9.4 percent to $5.02 after a person familiar with the matter said the No. 2 U.S. office supply retailer was in advanced talks to merge with smaller rival OfficeMax Inc , which jumped more than 20 percent.


News of the potential move came just days after Berkshire Hathaway and a partner agreed to acquire H.J. Heinz Co for $23 billion, and following a revised $20 billion takeover of Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo by Anheuser-Busch InBev .


Deal activity has helped equities resist a pullback as investors use dips in stocks as buying opportunities. The S&P is up about 7 percent so far in 2013 and has climbed for the past seven weeks in its longest weekly winning streak since January 2011, though most of the weekly gains have been slim.


The Dow industrials closed 0.9 percent away from their record high while S&P 500 was 2.2 percent off its peak.


"Deals are good for the market," said Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago. "The fact that they're being done is a positive."


More than $158 billion in deals has been announced so far in 2013, more than double the activity in the same period last year and accounting for 57 percent of global deal volumes, according to Thomson Reuters Deals Intelligence.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 53.91 points, or 0.39 percent, to 14,035.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> gained 11.15 points, or 0.73 percent, to 1,530.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> gained 21.56 points, or 0.68 percent, to 3,213.59.


Other stocks in the office supplies sector also rose. Larger rival Staples Inc shot up 13.1 percent to $14.65 as the best performer on the S&P 500.


"Equity investors have to be encouraged by M&A since, if the number crunchers are offering large premiums, that shows how much value is still in the market," said Mike Gibbs, co-head of the equity advisory group at Raymond James in Memphis, Tennessee.


On the downside, health insurance stocks tumbled, led by a 6.4 percent drop in Humana Inc to $73.01. The company said the government's proposed 2014 payment rates for Medicare Advantage participants were lower than expected and would hurt its profit outlook.


UnitedHealth Group lost 1.2 percent to $56.66. The Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index <.hmo> dropped 1.2 percent.


Wall Street's strong start to the year was fueled by better-than-expected corporate earnings, as well as a compromise in Washington that temporarily averted automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that are predicted to damage the economy.


The compromise on across-the-board spending cuts postponed the matter until March 1, at which point the cuts take effect. Ahead of the debate over the cuts, known as sequestration, further gains for stocks may be difficult to come by.


Some investors say the debate could be the catalyst for a long anticipated sell-off after the market's recent strong run.


Carter Worth, a technical analyst at Oppenheimer, pointed to the "especially complacent action of the past six weeks," noting that, as of Friday, stocks have gone 33 sessions without a dip of more than 1.5 percent.


"We would be selling aggressively into the market's current strength," he said in a research note.


Economic data showed the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market index unexpectedly edged down to 46 in February from 47 in the prior month as builders faced higher material costs.


According to the Thomson Reuters data through Monday morning, of the 391 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.1 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, compared with a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies have risen 5.6 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Express Scripts rose 2.5 percent to $56.98 after the pharmacy benefits manager posted fourth-quarter earnings.


About two stocks rose for everyone that fell on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. About 6.48 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, in line with the daily average so far this year.


(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak Ryan Vlastelica and Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)



Read More..

Yen firmer but near lows, Asian shares capped

TOKYO (Reuters) - The yen remained near recent lows on Tuesday, as attention turned to the appointment of a new Bank of Japan governor.


Regional share markets held to tight ranges as the absence of catalysts and a holiday in the U.S. overnight capped demand.


The yen, which has dropped 20 percent against the dollar since mid-November, fell further at the start of the week after financial leaders from the G20 promised not to devalue their currencies to boost exports and avoided singling out Japan for any direct criticism.


The choice of the next BOJ governor and two deputies has drawn market attention as a gauge to how strongly Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is committed to reflating the economy. The G20's message was that as long as Japan pursues aggressive monetary easing to achieve that goal, a weaker yen as a result of such domestic monetary policy will be tolerated, analysts say.


"But that means that some other economy's monetary conditions have been tightened," said Barclays Capital in a note.


"Japan hasn't even changed its policy stance thus far, and the effect of expectations of a looser setting have led to limited moves in domestic interest rates, but the sell-off of the JPY has been marked and has clearly caused unease in other economies."


Market reaction was muted to the release of the minutes of the BOJ's January 21-22 meeting, when the bank set a 2 percent inflation target and pledged to an open-ended quantitative easing from 2014, but the yen was bought when Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters Japan has no plans to buy foreign currency bonds as part of monetary easing, a trader said.


The dollar was down 0.2 percent to 93.75 yen, but remained near its highest since May 2010 of 94.465 hit on February 11. The euro also eased 0.3 percent to 125.05 yen, below its peak since April 2010 of 127.71 yen touched on February 6.


The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> was nearly flat.


The Nikkei stock average <.n225> opened down 0.6 percent, after closing up 2.1 percent on Monday to approach its highest level since September 2008 of 11,498.42 tapped on February 6. <.t/>


Australian shares <.axjo> inched down 0.1 percent on the back of weakness in metals prices, with investors focusing on local corporate earnings for direction after a three-month rally that has taken the market to 4-1/2 year highs.


Seoul shares <.ks11> opened little changed, and were expected to struggle to find momentum on worries about the weak yen.


"The market has been taking a breather recently after staging a recovery earlier this month," said Lee Jae-man, an analyst at Tong Yang Securities in Seoul. "The weaker yen has been priced in to some extent, and the pace of its fall is expected to slow down."


Disappointing earnings pushed European shares lower on Monday for a third straight session of losses while U.S. markets were closed for the President's Day holiday.


The euro was steady around $1.3348. The currency eased slightly on Monday after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said in a speech at the European Parliament that "the exchange rate is not a policy target but is important for growth and price stability" and that its rise is "a risk."


The risk of an inconclusive outcome in Italy's election this weekend added to investor concerns.


Sterling hovered near a seven-month low against the dollar touched on Monday after a key policymaker made comments about the need for further weakness, while recent poor data has spurred worries of another British recession.


U.S. crude fell 0.4 percent to $95.47 a barrel.


(Additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Miyoung Kim in Seoul; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)



Read More..

Japan stocks rally, yen resumes fall after G20

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese shares rallied and the yen fell on Monday after Tokyo escaped direct criticism from its G20 peers on its aggressive reflationary plans that have weakened the currency.


"With Japan, as yet, using various measures to ease monetary conditions domestically, we do not expect a large international backlash against its efforts and look for the JPY to continue to decline gradually as the easier monetary conditions feed through into FX," Barclays Capital said in a note to clients.


The G20 declined to single out Tokyo but committed to refrain from competitive devaluations and said monetary policy would be directed only at price stability and growth. Japan said this has given it a green light to pursue its policies unchecked.


Taking their cue from the G20, the Nikkei average <.n225> opened up 1.3 percent as the yen resumed its downtrend. <.t/>


The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> was nearly unchanged. The pan-Asian index briefly hit a 18-1/2-month high on Friday and had its best performance since the week of January 6 with a 1.2 percent weekly gain.


On Friday, MSCI's all-country world index <.miwd00000pus>, a measure of global equity activity, traded down 0.26 percent, while European shares closed lower and U.S. stocks ended flat.


Australian shares rose 0.3 percent as miners gained on hopes that top customer China might start buying after the Lunar New Year holidays, while blue chips Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Telstra Corp Ltd dropped after trading ex-dividend.


Markets in China and Taiwan resumed trading after a week-long holiday.


In Seoul, the Kospi <.ks11> opened down 0.1 percent, partly weighed by concerns over continued yen weakness that could erode the competitive edge of Korea's exporters.


"There is not much else to go on today except the currency, so everything depends on where the yen goes," said Toshiyuki Kanayama, senior market analyst at Monex.


The dollar rose 0.3 percent to 93.75 yen inching closer to its highest since May 2010 of 94.465 hit on February 11. The euro added 0.1 percent to 125.26 yen, still below its peak since April 2010 of 127.71 yen touched on February 6.


The market's focus is now on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's nominee for the next Bank of Japan governor. Abe is expected to announce his choice in coming days.


Sources told Reuters that former top financial bureaucrat Toshiro Muto is leading the field of candidates to become the next central bank governor. It is expected that he would intensify stimulus efforts to reflate the economy.


STOCKS CONSOLIDATE


Data from EPFR Global on Friday underscored that a consolidation was underway in global equities after their recent rally. It showed investors worldwide pulled $3.62 billion from U.S. stock funds in the latest week, the most in ten weeks after taking a neutral stance the prior week. But demand for emerging market equities remained strong, with investors putting $1.81 billion in new cash to stock funds, the fund-tracking firm said.


Demand for commodities will likely be in focus as China returns to the market.


Investors are also expected to focus on fiscal talks in Washington, where policymakers are discussing a package of budget cuts set to kick in on March 1. Analysts say the austerity measures could hurt the U.S. economy.


U.S. crude fell 0.2 percent to $95.64 a barrel.


(Additional reporting by Sophie Knight in Tokyo; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)



Read More..

G20 steps back from currency brink, heat off Japan


MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Group of 20 nations declared on Saturday there would be no currency war and deferred plans to set new debt-cutting targets, underlining broad concern about the fragile state of the world economy.


Japan's expansive policies, which have driven down the yen, escaped direct criticism in a statement thrashed out in Moscow by policymakers from the G20, which spans developed and emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy.


Analysts said the yen, which has dropped 20 percent as a result of aggressive monetary and fiscal policies to reflate the Japanese economy, may now continue to fall.


"The market will take the G20 statement as an approval for what it has been doing -- selling of the yen," said Neil Mellor, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon in London. "No censure of Japan means they will be off to the money printing presses."


After late-night talks, finance ministers and central bankers agreed on wording closer than expected to a joint statement issued last Tuesday by the Group of Seven rich nations backing market-determined exchange rates.


A draft communiqué on Friday had steered clear of the G7's call for economic policy not to be targeted at exchange rates. But the final version included a G20 commitment to refrain from competitive devaluations and stated monetary policy would be directed only at price stability and growth.


"The mood quite clearly early on was that we needed desperately to avoid protectionist measures ... that mood permeated quite quickly," Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters, adding that the wording of the G20 statement had been hardened up by the ministers.


As a result, it reflected a substantial, but not complete, endorsement of Tuesday's proclamation by the G7 nations - the United States, Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.


As with the G7 intervention, Tokyo said it gave it a green light to pursue its policies unchecked.


"I have explained that (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe's administration is doing its utmost to escape from deflation and we have gained a certain understanding," Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters.


"We're confident that if Japan revives its own economy that would certainly affect the world economy as well. We gained understanding on this point."


Flaherty admitted it would be difficult to gauge if domestic policies were aimed at weakening currencies or not.


NO FISCAL TARGETS


The G20 also made a commitment to a credible medium-term fiscal strategy, but stopped short of setting specific goals as most delegations felt any economic recovery was too fragile.


The communiqué said risks to the world economy had receded but growth remained too weak and unemployment too high.


"A sustained effort is required to continue building a stronger economic and monetary union in the euro area and to resolve uncertainties related to the fiscal situation in the United States and Japan, as well as to boost domestic sources of growth in surplus economies," it said.


A debt-cutting pact struck in Toronto in 2010 will expire this year if leaders fail to agree to extend it at a G20 summit of leaders in St Petersburg in September.


The United States says it is on track to meet its Toronto pledge but argues that the pace of future fiscal consolidation must not snuff out demand. Germany and others are pressing for another round of binding debt targets.


"We had a broad consensus in the G20 that we will stick to the commitment to fulfill the Toronto goals," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said. "We do not have any interest in U.S.-bashing ... In St. Petersburg follow-up-goals will be decided."


The G20 put together a huge financial backstop to halt a market meltdown in 2009 but has failed to reach those heights since. At successive meetings, Germany has pressed the United States and others to do more to tackle their debts. Washington in turn has urged Berlin to do more to increase demand.


Backing in the communiqué for the use of domestic monetary policy to support economic recovery reflected the U.S. Federal Reserve's commitment to monetary stimulus through quantitative easing, or QE, to promote recovery and jobs.


QE entails large-scale bond buying -- $85 billion a month in the Fed's case -- that helps economic growth but has also unleashed destabilising capital flows into emerging markets.


A commitment to minimize such "negative spillovers" was an offsetting point in the text that China, fearful of asset bubbles and lost export competitiveness, highlighted.


"Major developed nations (should) pay attention to their monetary policy spillover," Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao was quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying in Moscow.


Russia, this year's chair of the G20, admitted the group had failed to reach agreement on medium-term budget deficit levels and expressed concern about ultra-loose policies that it and other emerging economies say could store up trouble for later.


On currencies, the G20 text reiterated its commitment last November, "to move more rapidly toward mores market-determined exchange rate systems and exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying fundamentals, and avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments".


It said disorderly exchange rate movements and excess volatility in financial flows could harm economic and financial stability.


(Additional reporting by Gernot Heller, Lesley Wroughton, Maya Dyakina, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Jan Strupczewski, Lidia Kelly, Katya Golubkova, Jason Bush, Anirban Nag and Michael Martina. Writing by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mike Peacock)



Read More..

After decent rally, perhaps time for a pause

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks could struggle to extend their seven-week winning streak as the quarterly earnings period draws to a close and the market bumps into strong technical resistance.


Many analysts say the market could spend the next few weeks consolidating gains that have lifted the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 <.spx> by 6.6 percent since the start of the year.


The S&P 500 ended up 0.1 percent for the week, recovering from a late sell-off on Friday after a Bloomberg report about slow February sales at Wal-Mart triggered a slide in the retailer's shares. It was the index's seventh week of gains.


Odds of a pullback are increasing, with the market in slightly overbought territory, said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Delta Global Asset Management in Boston.


"I do suspect the closing of the earnings season will lead to at least a pause and possibly a pullback," Zaro said. The S&P 500 could shave 3 to 5 percent between now and early April, he said.


Fourth-quarter earnings have mostly beaten expectations. Year-over-year profit growth for S&P 500 companies is now estimated at 5.6 percent, up from a January 1 forecast for 2.9 percent growth, and 70 percent of companies are exceeding analyst profit expectations, above the 62 percent long-term average, according to Thomson Reuters data.


On Thursday, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is due to report results, unofficially closing out the earnings period. Investors will be keen to see its quarterly numbers, especially after the Friday's news report that rattled investors.


The S&P 500 has gained 4.3 percent since Alcoa kicked off the earnings season on January 8.


The approaching March 1 deadline for across-the-board federal budget cuts unless Congress reaches a compromise adds another reason for caution, especially with recent economic data indicating the recovery remains bumpy.


Manufacturing output fell 0.4 percent last month, the Federal Reserve said on Friday, but production in November and December was much stronger than previously thought.


TESTING RESISTANCE


The S&P 500 has been trading near five-year highs, and it notched its highest level since November 2007 this week. But the gains have pushed the benchmark index almost as far as it is likely to go in the near term, with strong resistance hovering around 1,525 and 1,540, one analyst said.


As a result, the index is set to move sideways, said Dave Chojnacki, market technician at Street One Financial in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania. "We just don't have the volume or the catalyst right now" to go above those levels, he said.


At the same time, other analysts say, the market has not shown significant signs of slowing, including a break below 15- and 30-day moving averages.


Such moves would be needed to show that momentum is slowing or that the market is at risk of a correction, said Todd Salamone, director of research for Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, Ohio. The S&P 500's 14-day moving average is at 1,511 while the 30-day is at 1,494. The index closed Friday at 1,519.


Recent M&A activity, including news this week of a merger between American Airlines and US Airways Group , helped provide some strength for the market this week and optimism that more deals may be on the way.


In the coming days, the market will focus on minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting, due to be released on Wednesday, which could provide support if they suggest the Fed will remain on its current course of aggressive monetary easing.


The Fed minutes released in January spooked markets a bit when they revealed that some Fed officials thought it would be appropriate to consider ending asset purchases later in 2013. U.S. Treasury yields rose on that news, though market worries about a near-term end to quantitative easing have since faded.


Among other companies expected to report earnings next week are Nordstrom , Hewlett-Packard and Marriott International


(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Leslie Adler)



Read More..

Wall Street ends slightly higher, helped by acquisitions

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The S&P 500 eked out a small gain for a third straight session on Thursday, helped by a flurry of merger activity, though investors see no catalysts to lift the market further with major averages near multi-year highs.


The market's slowed advance took the S&P 500 to its highest intraday level since November 2007 on Wednesday. While the index notched its third straight day of gains, none was more than 0.2 percent.


Shares of H.J. Heinz Co jumped 20 percent to $72.50 after it said Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital will buy the food company for $72.50 a share, or $28 billion including debt. Berkshire's class B shares rose 1.3 percent to $99.21.


Also supporting the market was data showing the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected in the latest week. The CBOE Volatility index <.vix> fell 2.4 percent, dropping to 12.67.


"While I'm not bearish, I don't see many upside motivations at these levels," said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York, who cited the low level of the VIX as a sign the market was overbought.


Equities have struggled to break above current levels where they have been hovering for almost two weeks. The S&P 500 is up more than 6 percent so far this year.


"We need to digest some of our gains to go higher, but people are so eager to buy on the dips that we're not even seeing dips anymore. People are just chasing the market higher," said Selkin, who helps oversee about $3 billion in assets.


Stocks fell earlier after a report the euro zone's gross domestic product contracted by the steepest amount since the first quarter of 2009. In addition, Japan's GDP shrank 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, crushing expectations of a modest return to growth.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 9.52 points, or 0.07 percent, at 13,973.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 1.05 points, or 0.07 percent, at 1,521.38. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 1.78 points, or 0.06 percent, at 3,198.66.


Constellation Brands soared 37 percent to $43.75 after AB InBev's deal to take over Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo was revised to grant Constellation perpetual rights to distribute Corona and other Modelo brands in the United States. U.S. shares of AB InBev gained 5.1 percent to $92.77.


American Airlines and US Airways Group said they plan to merge in a deal that will form the world's biggest air carrier, with an equity valuation of about $11 billion. US Airways shares fell 4.6 percent to $13.99.


Weakness in Europe contributed to a 5 percent drop in revenue from the region for Cisco Systems , which nonetheless beat estimates as it reported its results late Wednesday. The company's shares dipped 0.7 percent to $20.99.


General Motors Co reported a weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, also citing bigger losses in Europe alongside lower prices in its core North American market. The stock was off 3.3 percent to $27.73.


Only five more stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange, while 51 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed higher.


Volume was light, with about 6.36 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares.


(Editing by Nick Zieminski and Kenneth Barry)



Read More..

Wall Street pauses after rally to five-year high

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks drifted in light volume on Wednesday, ending little changed, as investors remained cautious after the S&P 500 index briefly hit its highest intraday level since November 2007.


The S&P 500 was buoyed by General Electric after cable company Comcast Corp said it will buy from GE the the part of NBCUniversal it didn't already own for $16.7 billion.


Comcast's stock hit the highest since 1999 before closing up 3 percent at $40.13 and GE gained 3.6 percent to $23.39.


The S&P 500 is up 6.6 percent so far this year, partly due to stronger-than-expected corporate earnings and a better economic outlook. The Dow industrials is about 1 percent away from an all-time intraday high, reached in October 2007.


Volume has been weak in recent days with the S&P moving sideways around 1,520. The index is about 3 percent away from closing at a record high.


A scarcity of sellers after a consistent string of gains is a positive sign and shows the uptrend is intact, King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco, said.


"Last year we had double-digit returns in the first quarter. It's fairly possible we can move higher from here," he said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> fell 35.79 points or 0.26 percent, to 13,982.91, the S&P 500 <.spx> gained 0.9 point or 0.06 percent, to 1,520.33 and the Nasdaq Composite <.ixic> added 10.38 points or 0.33 percent, to 3,196.88.


The S&P gained 12 percent in the first three months of 2012.


Deere & Co , the world's largest farm equipment maker, forecast a modest increase in sales this year despite the prospect of the biggest corn crop in U.S. history. The forecast fell short of analysts' expectations, sending shares of Deere down 3.5 percent to $90.68.


In extended trading, shares of technology bellwether Cisco Systems fell 2 percent after it posted results.


Dr Pepper Snapple fell 5.8 percent to $42.69 after it forecast profit for the current year below analysts' estimates.


Cliffs Natural Resources lost a fifth of its market value a day after the miner reported a quarterly loss and slashed its dividend by 76 percent. Its shares fell 20 percent to 429.29.


According to the latest Thomson Reuters data, of the 364 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.


About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, below the daily average in February last year of 6.94 billion.


On the NYSE, roughly seven issues rose for every five that fell and on Nasdaq more than six rose for every five decliners.


(Editing by Kenneth Barry and Bernadette Baum)



Read More..

Wall Street ends slightly higher, Dow near a record

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks closed modestly higher on Tuesday, putting the Dow within striking distance of an all-time high, as investors looked ahead to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.


Investors will be listening to Obama's speech for any clues on a deal with Republicans to avert automatic spending cuts due to take effect March 1. The tone of the speech will also be scrutinized, with any sign of compromise likely to be warmly received.


The S&P 500 has risen for the past six weeks, putting it up 6.5 percent so far this year, while the Dow is about 1 percent away from its all-time closing record of 14,164.53, reached in October 2007.


But gains have been harder to come by since the S&P hit a five-year high on February 1. Daily moves have been small and trading volume light as investors search for new reasons to drive stocks higher.


About 5.73 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT on Tuesday, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares.


"We're likely to settle in for a period and digest the gains we've had, though there's still a bias towards positive momentum," said Eric Teal, chief investment officer at First Citizens Bancshares in Raleigh, North Carolina.


"Questions over government spending are the big overhang, and we're looking for Obama to inspire some confidence over that tonight."


The White House has signaled Obama will urge investment in infrastructure and clean energy, suggesting companies in those sectors may be volatile in Wednesday's session.


"Gun makers could also see a reaction if Obama talks about anything with respect to gun control," said Teal, who helps oversee $5 billion. Shares of Smith & Wesson fell 2 cents to $9.11 while Sturm Ruger was up 0.4 percent at $53.91.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 47.46 points, or 0.34 percent, at 14,018.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 2.42 points, or 0.16 percent, at 1,519.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 5.51 points, or 0.17 percent, at 3,186.49.


Housing shares were among the strongest of the day, led by a 12.5 percent jump in Masco Corp to $20.02 after the home improvement product maker said it expects new home construction to show strong growth in 2013. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> rose 3.7 percent.


Avon Products Inc surged 20 percent to $20.79 as the S&P 500's top percentage gainer after the cosmetics company reversed sales declines and cut costs.


On the downside, Coca-Cola Co fell 2.7 percent to $37.56 and was the biggest drag on the Dow after reporting revenue below estimates, hurt by a weaker-than-expected performance in Europe.


Michael Kors Holdings shares jumped 8.8 percent to $62.04 after the fashion company handily beat Wall Street's estimates and raised its full-year outlook.


With earnings season starting to wind down, Thomson Reuters data through Tuesday morning shows of the 353 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.


Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 5.3 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.


About 62 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed higher while 59 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed in positive territory.


(Editing by Nick Zieminski)



Read More..

Wall Street ends flat as investors seek new catalysts

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks ended a quiet session with slight moves on Monday as investors found few reasons to keep pushing shares higher following a six-week advance, though the longer-term trend was still viewed as positive.


The benchmark index is up more 6.4 percent in 2013, putting both the S&P 500 and Dow industrials near multi-year highs. The S&P is less than 4 percent from its all-time intraday high of 1,576.09, hit in October 2007.


"This is still a market that looks terrific, but when you're up for six weeks in a row, everyone is going to want to take a pause going into the seventh week even if there is no bad news out there," said Eric Kuby, chief investment officer at North Star Investment Management in Chicago.


Volume was light, with about 4.812 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT, well below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares.


Wall Street was modestly lower throughout the session but regained some ground in the final hour of trading as Google Inc rebounded off earlier losses. Shares of the Internet search giant dipped 0.4 percent to $782.42, recovering from earlier declines of 1 percent after the company said in a filing former chief executive Eric Schmidt is selling roughly 42 percent of his stake in the company.


Also in the tech space, Apple Inc rose up 1 percent to $479.93 after the New York Times reported the iPhone maker was experimenting with the design of a device similar to a wristwatch.


The Federal Reserve's Vice Chair Janet Yellen, seen as a potential successor to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke next year, said the Fed is still aggressively stimulating an anemic U.S. economic recovery that has failed to bring rapid progress on employment.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 21.81 points, or 0.16 percent, at 13,971.16. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 0.92 points, or 0.06 percent, at 1,517.01. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 1.87 points, or 0.06 percent, at 3,192.00.


Upbeat U.S. and Chinese data last week helped the S&P 500 extend its weekly winning streak to six. The index gained about 8 percent over that period.


Equities have been strong performers lately and many investors have used any declines in the market as opportunities to buy.


"Everyone wants to buy on a dip in this market, but if you're on the sidelines right now, the decline we're seeing today just isn't the kind you would jump in on," Kuby said.


President Barack Obama will describe his plan for spurring the economy in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He is expected to offer proposals for investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and education.


Opposition has grown to the $24.4 billion buyout of Dell Inc , the No. 3 personal computer maker, as three of the largest investors joined Southeastern Asset Management on Friday in raising objections. Dell said in a regulatory filing it had considered many strategic options before opting to go private in a buyout led by Chief Executive Michael Dell.


Dell shares hovered near $13.65, the buyout offer price.


Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc shares rose 2.7 percent at $170.35 after it said longtime drug development partner Sanofi plans to boost its stake.


Moody's Corp was one of the strongest percentage gainers on the S&P 500, rising 4.9 percent to $45.49. Last week the stock plunged 22 percent after the U.S. government launched a civil lawsuit against the company. The sell-off marked the stock's worst week since October 2008.


About 53 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed lower while slightly more Nasdaq-listed stocks closed in negative territory.


(Editing by Nick Zieminski)



Read More..

US Air, AMR near $11 billion merger, deal seen within week : sources


NEW YORK (Reuters) - US Airways Group Inc and AMR Corp are nearing an $11 billion merger that would create the world's largest airline and could announce a deal within a week, after resolving key differences on valuation and management structure, people familiar with the matter said.


Under terms of a deal that are still being finalized, US Airways Chief Executive Doug Parker would become CEO, while AMR's Tom Horton would serve as non-executive chairman of the board until spring of 2014, when the combined company holds its first annual meeting, the sources said.


The deal would come more than 14 months after the parent of American Airlines filed for bankruptcy in November 2011, and would mark the last combination of legacy U.S. carriers, following the Delta-Northwest and United-Continental mergers.


The all-stock merger is expected to value the combined carrier at between $10.5 billion and $11 billion, and would give AMR creditors 72 percent of the ownership in the new company and US Airways shareholders the rest, they said.


The board of each airline is expected to meet in the middle of the coming week to vote on the proposed deal, and an announcement would likely come in the latter part of the week, the sources said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.


Negotiations are continuing and could still be delayed or fall apart, they cautioned.


The companies had initially tried to schedule board meetings for Monday, the day that AMR's creditors committee planned to convene, and had aimed to announce a deal as soon as Tuesday, sources told Reuters previously.


But AMR needed more time to finalize details and the boards of the two airlines are now not expected to gather until around Wednesday, the sources said.


The AMR creditors committee is still meeting on Monday in New York, as initially scheduled, and will continue discussions as the airlines finalize negotiations, they added.


A lawyer for the creditors committee declined to comment. Representatives for AMR and US Airways declined to comment.


A combination with US Airways would create the world's top airline by passenger traffic and help the two carriers better compete with rivals United Continental Holdings and Delta Air Lines Inc .


A near-$11 billion valuation of the combined American-US Airways compares to some $12.4 billion market capitalization for Delta, and $8.7 billion for United Continental.


The currently planned equity split ratio between AMR creditors and US Airways shareholders implies a roughly $3 billion valuation for US Airways and some $7.5 billion to $8 billion valuation for AMR.


NEW AMERICAN AIRLINES


US Airways will follow through on its agreement with AMR labor unions last year that the combined carrier would be branded American Airlines and be based in Fort Worth, Texas, where AMR is currently based, sources said. US Airways has its headquarters in Tempe, Arizona.


As part of the merger, US Airways will also leave the Star Alliance to join the oneworld global airline alliance, of which American Airlines is an anchor member along with British Airways, the people familiar with the matter said.


The airlines are estimating that a merger will bring about $1 billion in revenue and cost benefits, they said.


Horton rebuffed an aggressive takeover push from US Airways early in the bankruptcy process, saying the airline preferred to exit court protection on its own and consider a deal later. But after several months of talks with its own creditors as well as with US Airways, Horton has softened his approach and agreed to consider all options.


A combined American-US Airways would provide the scale to match bigger rivals that are upgrading service and expanding international routes. The merged company would have revenue of $38.69 billion based on 2012 figures, ahead of United Continental which had revenue of $37.15 billion last year.


The new American would have a solid presence on the important U.S. East and West coasts and on North Atlantic routes, given American's revenue-sharing joint venture with British Airways and Iberia.


(Reporting by Soyoung Kim in New York, additional reporting by Nick Brown and Karen Jacobs; Editing by Sandra Maler)



Read More..

Stocks end higher for sixth straight week, tech leads

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Nasdaq composite stock index closed at a 12-year high and the S&P 500 index at a five-year high, boosted by gains in technology shares and stronger overseas trade figures.


The S&P 500 also posted a sixth straight week of gains for the first time since August.


The technology sector led the day's gains, with the S&P 500 technology index <.splrct> up 1.0 percent. Gains in professional network platform LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc after they reported quarterly results helped the sector.


Shares of LinkedIn jumped 21.3 percent to $150.48 after the social networking site announced strong quarterly profits and gave a bullish forecast for the year.


AOL Inc shares rose 7.4 percent to $33.72 after the online company reported higher quarterly profit, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.


Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected, a positive sign for the global economy. The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in December, suggesting the U.S. economy likely grew in the fourth quarter instead of contracting slightly as originally reported by the U.S. government.


"That may have sent a ray of optimism," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.


Trading volume on Friday was below average for the week as a blizzard swept into the northeastern United States.


The U.S. stock market has posted strong gains since the start of the year, with the S&P 500 up 6.4 percent since December 31. The advance has slowed in recent days, with fourth-quarter earnings winding down and few incentives to continue the rally on the horizon.


"I think we're in the middle of a trading range and I'd put plus or minus 5.0 percent around it. Fundamental factors are best described as neutral," Dickson said.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> ended up 48.92 points, or 0.35 percent, at 13,992.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.54 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,517.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 28.74 points, or 0.91 percent, at 3,193.87, its highest closing level since November 2000.


For the week, the Dow was down 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq up 0.5 percent.


Shares of Dell closed at $13.63, up 0.7 percent, after briefly trading above a buyout offering price of $13.65 during the session.


Dell's largest independent shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, said it plans to oppose the buyout of the personal computer maker, setting up a battle for founder Michael Dell.


Signs of economic strength overseas buoyed sentiment on Wall Street. Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand. German data showed a 2012 surplus that was the nation's second highest in more than 60 years, an indication of the underlying strength of Europe's biggest economy.


Separately, U.S. economic data showed the trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, its narrowest in nearly three years, indicating the economy did much better in the fourth quarter than initially estimated.


Earnings have mostly come in stronger than expected since the start of the reporting period. Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies now are estimated up 5.2 percent versus a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. That contrasts with a 1.9 percent growth forecast at the start of the earnings season.


Molina Healthcare Inc surged 10.4 percent to $31.88 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.


The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 3.6 percent at 13.02. The gauge, a key measure of market expectations of short-term volatility, generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.


"I'm watching the 14 level closely" on the CBOE Volatility index, said Bryan Sapp, senior trading analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "The break below it at the beginning of the year signaled the sharp rally in January, and a rally back above it could be a sign to exercise some caution."


Volume was roughly 5.6 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.


Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by nearly 2 to 1 and on the Nasdaq by almost 5 to 3.


(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski, Kenneth Barry and Andrew Hay)



Read More..