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The stock market endured yet another range-bound, low-volume affair that saw the S&P 500 (-0.1%) end just below its flat line. The benchmark index will enter Friday unchanged for the week while the Nasdaq (+0.4%) outperformed, extending its weekly gain to 0.6%.
Equity indices started the day under pressure that was largely due to early weakness in the energy sector. The growth-sensitive group narrowed its loss to 0.8% by the close, but was down as much as 2.5% at the start. Meanwhile, crude oil tested the $50.00/bbl level this morning, but narrowed its loss to 0.6% at $51.83/bbl by the pit close. Oil rallied through the early afternoon release of the latest EIA storage report, which showed the largest inventory build for this time of the year in the past 80 years.
Elsewhere among cyclical sectors, financials (-0.4%) underperformed with Dow component American Express (AXP 78.40, -1.38) falling 1.7% after a federal court ruled against the company in a case regarding merchant anti-steering rules. Other major sector components fared better with JPMorgan Chase (JPM 59.23, -0.14) and Wells Fargo (WFC 54.56, +0.04) ending near their flat lines.
The remaining growth-sensitive groups posted gains with technology (+0.4%) and consumer discretionary (+0.3%) ending in the lead. The discretionary sector received noteworthy support from Priceline (PCLN 1218.05, +95.06) as the stock rallied 8.5% in reaction to better than expected results and upbeat guidance.
In addition to boosting the discretionary space, Priceline lent support to the Nasdaq Composite. However, the tech-heavy index also drew strength from chipmakers and biotech names. The PHLX Semiconductor Index added 0.3% while the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB 331.79, +2.37) gained 0.7%.
The biotech group helped the health care sector (+0.1%) end just above its flat line while other countercyclical sectors lagged. The utilities space lost 1.1% to widen its February decline to 5.9% while the consumer staples sector (-0.6%) was pressured by Wal-Mart (WMT 83.52, -2.77). The retail giant lost 3.2% following a bottom-line beat on below-consensus revenue. Also of note, the company raised its quarterly dividend to $0.49 per share from $0.48 and announced plans to boost wages for about 500,000 workers.
Treasuries spent the day in a slide from their overnight highs with the 10-yr yield rising three basis points to 2.11%.
In overseas developments, it was reported this morning that Germany rejected Greece's request for an extension to its current loan due to the request letter not "offering substantive solutions" with Berlin going as far as to call the proposal a "Trojan Horse." The Eurogroup is scheduled to meet with Greek representatives tomorrow, but hopes for an immediate solution remain low.
Today's participation was well below average with fewer than 680 million shares changing hands at the NYSE floor, which represented the second lowest total of the year.
Economic data included Initial Claims, Leading Indicators, and the Philadelphia Fed Survey:
The weekly initial claims level fell to 283,000 from an unrevised 304,000 while the Briefing.com consensus expected a drop to 295,000
The Department of Labor reported that no special factors influenced this week's decline
The continuing claims level increased to 2.425 million from an upwardly revised 2.367 million (from 2.354 million) while the consensus expected an increase to 2.385 million
The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index increased 0.2% in January after increasing a downwardly revised 0.4% (from 0.5%) in December while the Briefing.com consensus expected an increase of 0.3%
The January increase was the softest gain since a 0.1% increase in August 2014
The Philadelphia Fed's Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey declined to 5.2 in February from 6.3 in January while the Briefing.com consensus expected the index an increase to 9.0
The deceleration in manufacturing activities in the Philadelphia region mirrored the weakness reported in the New York region by the Empire Manufacturing Survey (7.8 from 9.9 in January)
There is no economic data on tomorrow's schedule.
Nasdaq Composite +4.0% YTD
S&P 500 +1.9% YTD
Russell 2000 +1.9% YTD
Dow Jones Industrial Average +0.9% YTD
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