Stocks are going nowhere fast as investors run out the clock with the first quarter ending tomorrow. Volume has been very light and with stocks drifting sideways it reinforces the idea that money managers are just sitting on the hands waiting for the quarter to end. The sell-off in treasuries is pushing yields higher and if this continues it will start to become competition for stocks. Meanwhile a bounce in the U.S. dollar is not having much affect on commodities. Crude oil is essentially unchanged near $82.11 a barrel. Gold futures are off about $6 near $1,105 an ounce.
Stocks were up in Asia today. The Japanese NIKKEI index was the best performer with a 1% gain on the strongest volume in three weeks. The NIKKEI is up 5% for the quarter and hitting new 18-month highs today. Japan's fiscal year end is March 31st. The Hong Kong Hang Seng rose +0.65%. The Chinese Shanghai index gained +0.15%.
European markets gapped open higher this morning but the rally fizzled. Stocks were trading sideways most of the session before trickling lower into negative territory by the closing bell. Banks were the worst performers. Greece's new bond auctions are not going well and that is worrisome. The German DAX lost 0.23%. The French CAC-40 fell 0.33%. The English FTSE gave up 0.67%.
Here in the U.S. investors were digesting the consumer confidence numbers and the Case-Shiller home price data. The Conference Board's consumer confidence index came in better than expected. February saw a horrible drop of 11 points to 46.4 and economists were expecting a bounce back toward 50.0. This morning the private research group said consumer confidence had rebounded back to 52.5 in March. The confidence number is now up four out of the last five months but it will take a reading above 90 before consumer confidence and the economy is considered healthy.
The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index data is not having much affect on stocks or the homebuilders. This 20-city index showed home values rising a seasonally adjusted +0.3% from December to January for the eighth monthly gain in a row. The move appeared to be fueled by an unexpected increase in California (Los Angeles), which saw a +1.8% gain. I see this report is a lagging indicator. This index is actually a three-month average so January's numbers still include the big gains in November. Odds are this index is going to be trending lower the next few months.
In other news shares of Apple Inc. (AAPL) hit new all-time highs over $237.00 a share as traders reacted to news that the company was planning to launch an iPhone on CDMA technology designed for Verizon's network. Elsewhere in the automobile industry Nissan Motor Co. announced that it would sell its brand new electric car, called the Leaf, for just over $25,000. The real price is closer to $32,800 but consumers will be eligible for a $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit. The Leaf can drive 100 miles on a single charge from a regular home outlet. General Motors has yet to announce pricing for its electric/hybrid vehicle the Volt due out later this year.
Currently the major U.S. averages are sliding sideways with very minor losses. The best performers are healthcare stocks (+0.5%), oil services (+0.5%), and Internet stocks (+0.29%). The worst performers are the banks (-0.9%), airlines (-1.2%), and homebuilders (-1.0%).
Chart of the S&P 500:
Chart of the NASDAQ:
Chart of the Dow Industrials:
Chart of the Russell 2000 index: