After digesting mostly market-friendly economic data, the stock market was holding on to modest gains Tuesday, hampered by an apparent lack of conviction and lingering concerns surrounding valuations and Federal Reserve plans to reduce its stimulus efforts.
Stocks rallied at the open on the heels of a pair of better than expected housing price indices. Consumer confidence also exceeded expectations but moods dampened after one report showed declining home sales while another report found further deterioration in the manufacturing sector throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
For the second straight day, biotechs are taking the wind out of the Nasdaq Composite, keeping the index on negative ground. The healthcare and biotech sectors earlier appeared ready to be stage a comeback but have since unraveled.
Today's flurry of economic data kicked off with The Federal Home Finance Agency reporting that home prices increased another 0.5% in January, beating expectations for a 0.4% rise. The Case-Shiller index also found home prices higher in January, up 0.8%, also beating estimates of a 0.7% gain.
After the open, the Conference Board said that consumer confidence improved significantly in March, jumping to 82.3 from an upwardly revised 78.3 the month prior. The components of the index were mixed; expectations increased to 83.5 from 76.5 the month prior, but the present situation declined slightly to 80.4 from 81.0 in February.
But while consumer confidence seems to be improving after a rough winter, the housing market is still struggling. New home sales increased by a seasonally-adjusted annual pace of 440,000 in February, down from a downwardly revised 455,000 the month prior, initially reported as 465,000.
Finally, manufacturing in the Richmond Fed region deteriorated with the index declining to -7.0 in March, well off estimates for a gain to +3.0 from -6.0 in February.
European markets shrugged off the weaker-than-expected German Ifo index, closing with strong gains for all the major indices amid hopes that weak Chinese data will result in additional stimulus measures that will ultimately benefit China's largest trading partner. Early gains in the U.S. stock market also fueled Tuesday's higher close after the Dow Industrials rallied by more than 100 points at the open.
Crude oil was down $0.55 to $99.05 per barrel. Natural gas was up $0.11 to $4.38 per 1 million BTU. Gold was up $2.60 to $1,313.50 an ounce, while silver was up $0.05 to $20.12 an ounce. Copper was up $0.05 to $3.00 per pound.
Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund was up 0.08% to $35.85 with the United States Natural Gas Fund was up 2.09% to $24.42. Amongst precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF was up 0.90% to 24.64 while SPDR Gold Shares was up 0.31% to $126.55. The iShares Silver Trust was up 0.47% to $19.31.
Here's where the markets stand at mid-day:
NYSE Composite Index up 28.18 (+0.27%) to 10,390.25
Dow Jones Industrial Average up 20.05 (+0.12%) to 16,296.74
S&P 500 down 1.21 (-0.06%) to 1,856.26
Nasdaq Composite Index down 21.93 (-0.52%) to 4,204.45
Nikkei 225 Index down 0.36%
Hang Seng Index down 0.52%
Shanghai China Composite Index up 0.05%
FTSE 100 Index up 1.23%
CAC 40 up 1.43%
DAX up 1.49%
NYSE SECTOR INDICES
NYSE Energy Sector Index up 0.68%
NYSE Financial Sector Index down 0.02%
NYSE Healthcare Sector Index down 0.31%
(+) HDS (+8.37%) Reported better than expected Q4 earnings
(+) PLUG (+4.92%) Upbeat Seeking Alpha report regarding the stock's valuation
(+) WSI (+4.27%) Reported improved Q2 results, declared quarterly dividend
(+) NEOG (+6.77%) Reported better than expected Q3 revenue, earnings in-line
(+) GALT (+14.74%) Positive results from Phase I clinical trial for fibrosis and cancer treatments
(-) CCL (-5.47%) Q2 and full year guidance is below analyst estimates.
(-) AI (-4.58%) Sold 2.75 million common A shares at $27.40 each, a 3.5% discount to Monday's closing price.