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The major averages began the new week on a sleepy note. The S&P 500 ended flat after spending the day in a seven-point range while the Nasdaq (+0.1%) finished a little ahead of the benchmark index.
In large part, the lack of activity on Monday could be explained by participants sticking to the sidelines ahead of Fed Chair Janet Yellen's semiannual testimony on monetary policy. Tomorrow, Ms. Yellen will appear before the Senate Banking Committee at 10:00 ET while her appearance in front of the House Financial Services Committee will follow on Wednesday. Since the minutes from the latest FOMC policy meeting showed waning support for increasing the fed funds rate during the first half of the year, participants will be on a lookout for similar hints from the Fed Chair tomorrow.
Meanwhile in Europe, Greece's government was expected to present a list of reforms today, but it remains unclear whether the Eurogroup received that list. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told CNN that the list was indeed delivered today, but separate reports indicated reform plans will be submitted tomorrow.
The wait-and-see tone resulted in range-bound action on light volume with only 720 million shares changing hands at the NYSE floor.
Six of ten sectors registered losses with all six cyclical sectors ending in the red. Most notably, the energy sector (-0.4%) slumped to the bottom of the leaderboard at the start, exerting pressure on the market throughout the day. The group lagged as crude oil fell 2.5% to $49.56/bbl. The energy component saw a brief afternoon spike into the $50.00/bbl area after Nigeria's oil minister said the sharp slide in crude prices could lead to an emergency OPEC meeting. WTI crude returned to its afternoon low after OPEC refuted the report, announcing no plans for an emergency meeting at this time.
Elsewhere among cyclical sectors, financials (-0.4%) and industrials (-0.4%) lagged while technology (+0.2%) finished ahead of the broader market thanks to the shares of Apple (AAPL 133.00, +3.50). The top-weighted sector component spiked 2.7% after announcing a EUR1.70 billion plan to build two data centers in Europe.
In addition to boosting its sector, the largest tech stock helped the Nasdaq spend the day ahead of the S&P. Biotechnology also contributed to the outperformance with the iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB 338.00, +1.57) adding 0.5% after being up more than 1.0% intraday. In turn, the health care sector (+0.4%) ended in the lead with Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX 198.75, +25.49) spiking 14.7% after agreeing to acquire Salix Pharmaceuticals (SLXP 155.76, -2.09) for $158.00/share.
Elsewhere among countercyclical groups, consumer staples (+0.3%) and utilities (+0.7%) posted gains while the telecom services sector (-0.6%) lagged.
Treasuries climbed throughout the day, ending on their highs with the 10-yr yield down five basis points at 2.06%.
Economic data was limited to the Existing Home Sales report, which showed a 4.9% decline in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million from an upwardly revised 5.07 million (from 5.04 million) in December while the Briefing.com consensus expected a decline to 4.95 million SAAR.
The existing home sales data is derived from actual closings. Even though mortgage rates declined significantly in January, the impact from lower mortgage rates will not be felt until February. Furthermore, inventory levels continue to be troublesome for growth. During normal sales periods, inventory levels typically hold at roughly 6 months at the current sales rate. In January, inventories represented only a 4.7 months' supply.
Tomorrow, the Case-Shiller 20-city Index for December (Briefing.com consensus 4.3%) will be released at 9:00 ET while February Consumer Confidence will cross the wires at 10:00 ET (consensus 99.3).
Nasdaq Composite +4.8% YTD
S&P 500 +2.5% YTD
Russell 2000 +2.3% YTD
Dow Jones Industrial Average +1.7% YTD
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