Stocks are suffering some Monday morning blahs. Better than expected economic data in the U.S. was not enough to offset a cautious mood by investors and widespread declines across most of the major world markets. Traders are in a wait-and-see mode for the Federal Reserve meeting tomorrow. Meanwhile weakness in the British pound and EU euro pushed the dollar higher, which is weighing on commodities. Gold is the exception with a minor gain to $1,103 an ounce. Crude oil is off about 2% near $79.60 a barrel. Copper prices are down about 2.5%.
Asian markets were mostly lower. Investors are concerned that the Chinese government might raise bank reserve ratios again following last week's higher than expected CPI numbers. Any new increase in bank requirements would be the third raise this year. Plus there is growing speculation that India might raise interest rates to keep its economy from overheating. The Chinese Shanghai index broke down under the psychological 3,000 level with a 1.2% decline. The Hong Kong Hang Seng fell 0.6%. The Japanese NIKKEI managed to rebound off its intraday lows thanks to strength in exporters on a weaker yen. The NIKKEI closed up +0.1%.
The worry over China tightening monetary policy weighed heavily on mining stocks, which helped lead the decline in Europe. Markets were trading flat to down only to accelerate lower into the closing bell. There was an EU meeting today as finance ministers gathered again to try and hammer out some assistance for Greece. Meanwhile the credit-rating agency Moody's raised eyebrows this morning with their quarterly report on triple-A rated countries. Moody's said that out of the top four countries Britain, France, Germany and the U.S.; that the U.S. and Britain were most at risk for losing their triple A rating. A downgrade would raise borrowing costs. The English FTSE index lost 0.66%. The German DAX fell 0.68%. The French CAC-40 closed down 0.87%.
In the U.S. investors were digesting the industrial production numbers and the NY Empire State manufacturing index. The Federal Reserve said industrial production for February rose 0.1%. Economists were expecting a decline since massive snow storms shutdown so much of the country last month. The largest component, manufacturing, fell 0.2%. Yet mining rose 2.0% and utilities edged up +0.5%. February's 0.1% gain is the eighth gain in a row.
The New York Empire State manufacturing index fell from 24.9 in February to 22.9 in March. Analysts were expecting a drop to 21.5. Some of the individual components inside the index were showing strength. Inventories rose above the zero level for the first time since August 2008. New orders rallied 17 points to 25.4.
In corporate news PepsiCo (PEP) announced that it was raising its stock buyback program from its remaining $6.4 billion, which expired this June, to $15 billion through June 2013. The planet's number two soft drink maker also raised their annual dividend by 7% to $1.92 a share. Shares of PEP are up 0.5% at new 52-week highs near $65.50.
U.S. markets were sliding lower about an hour ago but the declines have paused for the moment. As I said earlier investors are likely to sit on their hands and wait for the Fed announcement tomorrow. No one expects the FOMC to change interest rates so the focus will be on the Fed's statement. Overall the U.S. market is seeing a widespread decline with almost every sector in negative territory.
Chart of the S&P 500:
Chart of the NASDAQ:
Chart of the Dow Industrials:
Chart of the Russell 2000 index:
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