Investors continue to sit on their hands as they wait for the first quarter to end. The stock market has recovered from its morning lows but the indices are hovering near unchanged and look poised to close the quarter on a quiet note. The S&P 500 will end the quarter up 5%. The NASDAQ composite will post a 6% gain and the Dow Jones Industrial Average will end the quarter up more than 4%. Most of the economic data out today was mild with the Chicago PMI and manufactured goods orders but investors are cautious following the ADP employment number. Meanwhile a dip in the U.S. dollar is giving commodities a boost. Crude oil is up 1.1% to $83.31 a barrel. Gold futures are up about $9 to $1,114.70 an ounce.
Asian markets were pulling back today. Both the Chinese Shanghai index and the Hong Kong Hang Seng index closed down 0.6%. The Japanese NIKKEI index tagged a new 18-month high this morning before paring its gains into the closing bell. Today was the last day of the fiscal year in Japan. The NIKKIE slipped -0.06%. Toyota Motors offered some positive news. The company has been struggling with massive recalls of more than eight million vehicles (six million in the U.S. alone). The company was very aggressive with deep discounts, 0% financing, and free maintenance deals to lure back customers and it appeared to work. Toyota said March sales surged 40% compared to a 9% decline in February. Shares of TM are down about 60 cents trading near the 200-dma and the $80 level.
Wednesday turned out to be a rocky session for European markets. The region sold off midday as investors reacted to the disappointing ADP employment numbers. Stocks were trying to rebound higher into the closing bell with banks and commodity stocks showing the most strength. Investors are still cautious over the situation in Greece and news that Moody's Investor Service had downgraded five Greek banks this morning did not improve investor sentiment. By the closing bell the French CAC-40 slipped -0.3%. The German DAX inched up +0.18%. The English FTSE added +0.13%.
U.S. investors had a lot of economic data to sift through this morning with the ADP employment report, Chicago ISM, and the manufacturing orders. The ADP report was the biggest surprise. ADP employment report surveys private companies across the nation and their data showed that businesses cut 23,000 jobs in March compared to estimates for a gain of 40,000 jobs. This doesn't bode well for the government's non-farm payroll data this Friday. Granted the jobs report will include government jobs and we are looking for more than 100,000 in new temporary census workers. Economists are expecting the government's jobs report to show a gain of 180,000 to 190,000 new jobs in March. The report comes out on Friday with the market closed for the Good Friday holiday. Foreign markets will get to react to the jobs number first before we do next Monday.
In manufacturing data the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Chicago, also known as the Chicago PMI, was released this morning. This index for business activity in the Midwest fell to 58.8 in March from 62.6 in February. Economists were expecting a reading of 61. Readings over 50 still indicate expansion but the pull back is worrisome. Analysts are hoping that manufacturing will help lead the economy higher and the Chicago PMI is normally a good indicator for the national ISM number. In similar news the Commerce Department reported that orders for manufactured goods rose +0.6% in February. This was a little better than forecast but down from the previous month's +2.5% gain.
Energy stocks were higher today thanks to rising oil prices and news that President Obama seeks to reverse the ban on drilling for oil and gas off of America's coast line. Some have suggested this is a calculated move by the President to garner republican votes for hits climate bill. The proposed changes seem to be somewhat handicapped with companies only allowed to drill off the Virginia coast more than 50 miles away and they have to be more than 125 miles away if they want to drill off the Florida coast and that will only occur if a congressional moratorium is lifted.
Readers will want to keep an eye on Research In Motion (RIMM) tonight. The company reports earnings after the bell. Wall Street expects a profit of $1.28 a share. The stock has been consolidating sideways on either side of the $75.00 level for more than two weeks now as investors wait for the results.
The major U.S. averages are all trading close to unchanged on the day. The best performers are oil service stocks (+1.5%), oil (+0.9%), gold miners (+1.4%), banks (+0.9%), and gambling stocks (+0.68%). The worst performers are homebuilders (-1.6%), retail (-0.5%), and railroads (-0.4%).
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