The S&P 500 index has hit new 52-week highs as the market slowly melts higher. Investors are not waiting on the FOMC decision later this afternoon. No one expects the Federal Reserve to alter rates, currently in a range of 0.0-0.25%, so the focus will be on the Fed's statement due out around 2:15 p.m. EDT. Meanwhile the markets in Europe are bouncing as investors react to news from the latest EU finance minister meeting, who have been trying to come up with a solution to help Greece.
Asian markets are still lagging. The Japanese NIKKEI index just ended three days of gains with a 0.28% decline. Investors here were waiting on the FOMC decision today. The Hong Kong Hang Seng index lost 0.27% extending its losses to three days in a row. The Chinese Shanghai index managed to bounce back from its intraday lows but still closed under the 3,000 level after its +0.5% gain on Tuesday. Investors are still cautious that the Chinese government could raise bank reserve requirements again.
It was a different story in Europe with gains across the board. Euro-zone finance ministers have been meeting this week to discuss the Greek debt problem. Today the group drew up plans for emergency loans should Greece's current austerity plans fail. Failure would send Greece spiraling back towards a debt default. Elsewhere the latest German confidence numbers were released by the ZEW economic think tank in Mannheim. The poll surveys market analyst and investor confidence, which slipped for the sixth month in a row but fell less than expected. The ZEW sentiment numbers came in at 44.5 in March down from 45.1 in February. Economists were expecting a drop to 43.7. The German DAX index rose 1.25%. The French CAC-40 index rallied 1.5%. The English FTSE gained 0.59%.
In the U.S. the Commerce Department said housing construction fell 5.9% yet that was less than expected. Snow storms in February blanketed much of the north east and south and economists were expecting the housing pace to drop to 570,000. Today's report showed building fell from January's 622,000 pace to 575,000 pace. Single family home construction dipped 0.6% while the multi-family segment collapsed with a 30.3% decline. Industry analysts remain cautious. There are currently 3.8 million foreclosed homes for sale in the U.S. and many expected another five to six million foreclosed homes to hit the market over the next three years.
Currently the market is seeing a widespread rise. Nearly all of the major indices are in positive territory. The only sector index not participating is the BTK biotech index with a 1.3% decline. The best performers today are casino stocks (+2.6%), mining stocks (+2.8%), oil services (+1.2%), and the semiconductors (+2.1%). Dollar weakness is really fueling gains for the commodities. Crude oil is up nearly 2.4% to $81.71 a barrel. Gold is up about $18 to $1,123 an ounce. Copper is reversing most of yesterday's declines.
This afternoon could be volatile as investors react to the FOMC decision around 2:15 p.m. If there is any change in the statement don't be surprised if stocks reverse lower!
Chart of the S&P 500:
Chart of the NASDAQ:
Chart of the Dow Industrials:
Chart of the Russell 2000 index: