Despite a relatively light economic and earnings docket, the
major market indexes are poised to extend last week's run higher
today. Black gold has taken the spotlight ahead of the bell, with
crude futures toppling $108 per barrel on news of escalating
geopolitical tension in the Middle East and North Africa.
Furthermore, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be in the
spotlight today, as traders will undoubtedly try to gather
monetary-policy clues from the central banker's upcoming speech at
the Atlanta Fed conference. Ahead of the bell, the Dow Jones
Industrial Average (DJIA ) is up about 20 points, while the S&P
500 Index (SPX ) is trading about 2 points north of breakeven.
In equities news, Wells Fargo downgraded NYSE Euronext (NYX -
39.60) to "market perform" from "outperform," saying it's
"unlikely" that Deutsche Boerse will try to trump the
$42.50-per-share offer from NASDAQ OMX Group (NDAQ - 28.23) and
IntercontinentalExchange (ICE - 119.75). In the same vein, analysts
at Jefferies cut NDAQ to "hold" from "buy," calling the stock
fairly valued after last week's post-bid rally. At last check, NYX
has given back 1.5%, while NDAQ is fractionally lower.
Speaking of analysts... Janney Capital waxed optimistic on the
restaurant sector, noting that the recent momentum among
casual-dining operators could continue "as the back half of March
apparently got off to a great start." As such, the brokerage firm
said that after falling modestly this year, both Cheesecake Factory
(CAKE - 29.82) and P.F. Chang's China Bistro (PFCB - 45.94) could
surprise with solid first-quarter earnings estimates. What's more,
Janney upgraded CAKE and PFCB to "buy" from "neutral." Ahead of the
bell, CAKE has advanced about 2.3%, while PFCB is trading
Finally, the shares of Ambassadors International Inc. (AMIE -
2.80) have backpedaled nearly 80% in pre-market action, after the
cruise concern filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Today we'll hear earnings reports from Cache (
), China Gerui Advanced Materials Group (
), Schnitzer Steel (
), and Team Inc. (
). Keep your browser at
for more news as it breaks.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to deliver a
speech at the Atlanta Fed conference today. Meanwhile, the economic
calendar will kick off on Tuesday with the Institute for Supply
) non-manufacturing index for March, as well as the Federal Open
Market Committee's (FOMC) most recent meeting minutes. On
Wednesday, we'll see the weekly crude inventories report, plus the
Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) mortgage applications index.
Thursday will bring us the weekly jobless data and February's
consumer credit report, while the economic agenda winds down on
Friday with the release of the government's wholesale inventories
Equity option activity on the Chicago Board Options Exchange
(CBOE) saw 1,324,295 call contracts traded on Friday, compared to
681,305 put contracts. The resultant single-session put/call ratio
fell to 0.51, while the 21-day moving average was flat at 0.62.
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Asian stocks ended mostly higher today, with Japanese equities
gaining ground on a weaker yen. However, a report that business
confidence among Japanese manufacturers is dwindling limited the
bullish momentum. By the close, the benchmark Nikkei tacked on
0.1%. Elsewhere, Indian stocks are rallying in the wake of
encouraging monthly car sales, with Mahindra & Mahindra pacing
the advance with a gain of more than 4.7%. At last check, India's
BSE has added almost 1.5%. Meanwhile, markets in China and Taiwan
were closed for a public holiday.
European markets were also headed higher, with investors
celebrating a round of corporate deal-making. More specifically,
France's Rhodia was on the rise after Belgian chemical concern
Solvay SA agreed to buy the firm for 3.4 billion euros (or $4.8
billion), while Vodafone (VOD) is up more than 1% after agreeing to
sell its 44% stake in mobile operator SFR to Vivendi. However,
limiting stocks' momentum is caution ahead of the European Central
Bank's (ECB) monetary policy meeting on Thursday, where the central
bank could up its key interest rate. At last check, London's FTSE
100 has added almost 0.3%, while Germany's DAX has tacked on
Currencies and Commodities
The U.S. dollar is trending higher this morning, as the U.S.
Dollar Index was seen hovering around 75.89. Elsewhere, crude
futures are poised to extend their quest for new highs today,
thanks to signs of solid demand and an apparent stalemate in Libya.
In electronic trading, the May crude futures contract has added
0.4% to flirt with $108.42 per barrel. Finally, gold futures are
also moving higher, advancing 0.6% to linger near $1,437.60 an
Unusual Put and Call Activity:
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