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Leigh Baldwin & Co.

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The Week In Review

8/30-8/26/13

The major averages ended August on a lower note as the S&P 500 shed 0.3% while the Nasdaq fell 0.8%. Small caps endured a rough session with the Russell 2000 falling 1.6%.

With the Labor Day weekend ahead and the likelihood of military action in Syria also looming, participation was very limited before quarterly MSCI rebalancing added more than a 100 million shares to the final volume tally as 768 million shares changed hands on the NYSE floor.

Equities fell to their lows midway through the session when Secretary of State John Kerry commented on the Syrian situation, implying the U.S. will act alone if necessary. The S&P followed its quick slide to lows with a recovery to its prior levels, where it settled.

Eight of ten sectors ended in the red with influential cyclical groups weighing on the broader market. Financials, technology, industrials, and discretionary shares lost between 0.5% and 0.7% with the discretionary sector leading to the downside.

Nearly all discretionary components posted losses. Home builders settled on their lows as the iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction (ITB 20.56, -0.40) fell 1.9%. Retailers also slumped as the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT 77.88, -0.59) lost 0.8%. Big Lots (BIG 35.42, +0.78) bucked the trend among retailers, climbing 2.3% after reporting a bottom-line beat.

Elsewhere, the industrial sector succumbed to the pressure exerted by transportation companies as the Dow Jones Transportation Average fell 1.1%.

On the upside, consumer staples added 0.3% and the weakest sector of the month, utilities, tacked on a slim gain of less than 0.1%.

While buying interest was somewhat scarce, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX 16.95, +0.14) rose 0.8% as participants demanded some downside protection. The near-term volatility measure ended August at its highest level since early July after starting the month near its 2013 lows.

Treasuries spent the session within a narrow range and the benchmark 10-yr yield slipped one basis points to 2.75%.

Reviewing today's economic data, personal income increased 0.1% in July, down from a 0.3% increase in June and exactly what the Briefing.com consensus expected. Employee compensation fell 0.2% as wages and salaries declined by 0.3%. That pullback was in-line with the July employment report, which showed aggregate earnings down 0.3% in July. The drop in compensation was offset by a 0.7% increase in receipts on assets, which was primarily driven by equity gains.

Spending levels were weak. Consumption grew 0.1% in July after increasing an upwardly revised 0.6% (from 0.5%) in June. The consensus expected personal spending to increase 0.3%.

The Chicago PMI increased to 53.0 in August from 51.6 in July. That was exactly what the Briefing.com consensus expected. Production levels weakened slightly as the index fell from 53.6 in July to 53.0 in August. The drop in production, however, was not related to a pullback in orders. New orders increased in August to 57.2, which is the highest level since May. Order backlogs remained in contraction for a third consecutive month, but improved from 42.9 in July to 46.5 in August.

Lastly, consumer sentiment was revised up to 82.1 in the final reading of the August University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index from 80.0 in the preliminary reading. The upward revision still leaves sentiment below the 85.1 reading in July. The Briefing.com consensus expected the Consumer Sentiment Index to remain at 80.0.

Week in Review: Concerns Surrounding Syria Resonate With Markets

On Monday, equities ended on their lows as the S&P 500 shed 0.4% while the Nasdaq settled flat. The major averages held modest gains into the final hour of the session when comments from Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the situation in Syria contributed to broad-based selling. Mr. Kerry said additional information about the recent chemical attack is being compiled and will be made public. The comments raised the expectations for a military operation, a concern participants grappled with throughout the week.

Tuesday saw the major averages settled on their lows after broad-based selling persisted throughout the session. Sellers were in control, reacting to the increased likelihood of U.S. military involvement in Syria. In addition, investors exhibited caution amid news indicating the debt ceiling will be reached in mid-October and that Congress has yet to begin budget negotiations ahead of the new fiscal year, which begins October 1. The S&P 500 fell 1.6% to end below its 100-day moving average for just the second time this year. Small caps endured even more selling as the Russell 2000 lost 2.4%. The Dow Jones Transportation Average fell 2.6% as airlines displayed significant weakness. Delta Air Lines (DAL 19.73, +0.09) and United Continental (UAL 28.46, -0.04) tumbled 5.7% and 7.2%, respectively.

Wednesday's session ended with the S&P 500 adding 0.3% to follow the Tuesday slide. Although the benchmark index advanced, it was unable to retake its 100-day moving average. Eight of ten sectors finished in positive territory with energy leading the way. The sector displayed significant strength, climbing 1.8%, after outperforming in the previous session. On a related note, crude oil rose past $109.40 per barrel to push its quarter-to-date gain to almost 12.0% amid increased tensions in the Middle East.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 added 0.2% as eight of ten sectors posted gains. The session kicked off on a lower note, but still managed to finish in positive territory despite an afternoon stumble. Prior to the open, investors received the news that second quarter GDP was revised up to 2.5% from 1.7%. The Briefing.com consensus expected the reading to be revised to 2.1%. Real final sales were revised up to 1.9% from 1.3%. Overall, the upward revision to GDP growth did not suggest that the underlying currents of weak growth are ending. Almost the entire upward revision came from a stronger-than-originally reported trade deficit, which is likely to reverse in the third quarter. That means the increase in GDP pulled potential growth from the third quarter into the second and was not the result of a strengthening economic situation. Following the report, equity futures and Treasuries fell to their lows while the Dollar Index jumped to its high in a reaction consistent with increased tapering expectations. As the session dragged on, stocks displayed intraday strength, but slipped into the close while Treasuries erased their losses. The benchmark 10-yr yield slipped three basis points to 2.75%. For its part, the Dollar Index held its gains throughout the session, ending near 82.00.