Opening View: Stocks Flirt with Modest Gains Ahead of Bernanke Speech

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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.

Dow, S&P and Nasdaq futures

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 fractionally lower.

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.

Earnings Preview

Today we'll hear earnings reports from Cache ( CACH ), China Gerui Advanced Materials Group ( CHOP ), Schnitzer Steel ( SCHN ), and Team Inc. ( TISI ). Keep your browser at SchaeffersResearch.com for more news as it breaks.

Economic Calendar

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 Management's ( ISM ) 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 report.

Market Statistics

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.

NYSE and Nasdaq summary

Volatility indices

Trading the News: A Contrarian View. Check out this special report from Bernie Schaeffer here.

Overseas Trading

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 0.1%.

Overseas markets

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 ounce.

Currencies and commodities

Unusual Put and Call Activity:

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Unusual options activity - puts

Unusual options activity - calls

Every morning, our research staff analyzes the prior day and the overnight markets, and monitors the morning wires to give you an accurate preview of the day to come. If you enjoyed today's edition of Opening View, sign up here for free daily delivery, straight to your inbox, before the opening bell.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Options

Referenced Stocks: CACH , CHOP , ISM , SCHN , TISI

Schaeffer's Investment Research

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