Stocks Tumble as Investors Concerns Continue Over Japanese Quake Aftermath; Data Weighs


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Stocks are sharply lower for the second day in a row on political, environmental and economic issues, including ongoing problems with nuclear facilities in Japan following last week's earthquake, tensions in Bahrain and Libya and disappointing economic data.

Reports showed stronger-than-expected producer-level inflation due to food costs but an in-line result of 0.2% when food and energy are excluded. A sharp drop in February housing starts is keeping bulls at bay. The data shows the hot-and-cold nature of the economic recovery. The Federal Reserve's mildly optimistic post-meeting statement cheered Wall Street Tuesday.

U.S. wholesale prices jumped a seasonally adjusted 1.6% in February as food costs experienced the biggest one-month rise since 1974, the Labor Department reported Wednesday. Core producer prices, which exclude the volatile food and energy categories, rose a smaller 0.2%. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had predicted a 0.7 % increase in overall producer prices and a 0.2% increase in the core rate.

New construction of U.S. houses and apartments plunged in February, erasing a sharp gain in the prior month, the Commerce Department estimated Wednesday. Starts fell 22.5% in February to a seasonally adjusted 479,000 annualized units, much weaker than the 570,000 pace expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch.

In Japan today, the Nikkei Stock Average rose 5.7%, recouping some of the 16% it has lost in the past two days. Investors continue their vigilance over the ongoing crisis at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Bank of Japan injected more liquidity into the market.

In company news:

Goldman Sachs ( GS ) is higher after Bloomberg reported that the bank has agreed to buy Benchmark Asset Management, which is India's largest provider of index-tracking funds. The move comes as Goldman--which had set up its own mutual fund unit in 2008--did not oversee any assets in India at the end of the year, the report said.

Shares of Morton's Restaurant Group Inc. ( MRT ) are higher after the restaurant chain said it may sell the company as part of an effort to enhance shareholder value. The Chicago-based company's two largest shareholders, affiliates of Castle Harlan Inc. and Laurel Crown Partners LLC, authorized the exploration.

Shares of Netflix ( NFLX ) are higher after The Wall Street Journal reported that the company is in advanced talks to distribute a television series that will star Kevin Spacey, according to people familiar with the talks. The series is reportedly for a political drama called "House of Cards."

Shares of Teva Pharmaceuticals ( TEVA ) are down, while Bloomberg reports that the generic drug maker agreed with an Astrellas Pharma subsidiary to settle a pending patent-infringement lawsuit for the Tarceva lung cancer drug. Pfizer ( PFE ) and Genentech were also a part of the suit.

First American Financial (FAF) firms after it says its Board approved a new stock repurchase plan, which authorizes the repurchase of up to $150 million of the company's common stock. It also declared a regular quarterly cash dividend of $0.06 per common share. The cash dividend is payable on April 15 to stockholders of record as of March 31.

Cephalon (CEPH) asked a federal judge to block the sale by a competitor of a generic version of its drug Fentora, alleging it is potentially dangerous, Bloomberg reported. Cephalon sued the federal government in Washington, looking to revoke the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the generic version.

Weatherford International Ltd. (WFT) opened lower and is down 1.6% in early trading after it cut its Q1 earnings guidance this morning as poor weather and unrest in the Middle East weighs on the oil and gas service company. It suspended full-year guidance because of the upheaval, the company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, according to the AP. The company is now guiding for earnings of 18 cents per share, compared with a Q1 estimate of 27 cents a share in January. Analysts are looking for 23 cents per share, according to FactSet consensus poll. Principal accounting officer Charles Geer, will leave the company at the end of the week, the company said. A search is underway for Geer's replacement.

In earnings news:

--Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. (PSUN) is down after it tumbled in pre-market trading on a Q4 swing to a loss and weak Q1 guidance.

--Beacon Power (BCOND) reports Q4 revenue of $370,000, up from $303,000 in the year ago quarter. Loss for the quarter was $0.29 per share, down from a year ago loss of $0.31 per share. The single analyst estimate on Thomson Reuters was for revenue of $1 mln and a loss of $0.35 per share.

Commodities are higher. April gold contracts are down $11, or 0.8%, to $1,404 an ounce while April crude oil contacts are down 1.14%, or $1.11, at $98.29 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is up 0.71% to $39.67 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is down $0.10, or 0.9%, to $10.47.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 0.27% to $136.62. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is down 1.17% to $55.82. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 0.62% to $33.82.

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

Copyright (C) 2014 All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited.

This article appears in: Investing Commodities
Referenced Stocks: GS , MRT , NFLX , PFE , TEVA

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