Midday Update: Stocks Slightly Lower to Unchanged, Markets Still Defensive on Ukraine Uncertainty
Wall Street was on auto-pilot Wednesday following two volatile days, shrugging off weaker-than-expected economic data and downward revisions ahead of Friday's non-farm payrolls report. Although tensions between Russia and the West remain subdued in the wake of retreating Russian troops from Ukraine, investors remain defensive, underscoring the risk to equities in the event of another aggressive move by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Dow Industrials is trading lower on weakness in energy and consumer discretionary stocks, while the S&P 500 earlier hit a new intra-day high thanks to gains by financial stocks like Bank of America ( BAC ) and Goldman Sachs ( GS ).
Automated Data Processing reported that the private sector added 139,000 jobs in February, missing estimates for 158,000 hires and also following a downwardly revised 127,000 new jobs in January. The weaker than expected number encouraged some analysts to revise downward their forecasts For Friday's non-farm payroll report, currently at 150,000 for February.
The bearish ADP report was followed by a decline in the PMI services-sector index to 53.3 February reading from 56.7 in January, and a greater-than-expected deterioration in the Institute of Supply Management index for February to 51.6 from 54.0 in January. But once again, the data is considered adversely impacted by negative weather conditions and had little impact on the overall market sentiment.
Europe equities drifted into negative territory amid defensive posturing before tomorrow's European Central Bank and Bank of England policy meetings. Both are expected to hold off on any interest rate changes, but the European Central Bank will continue to consider options to address early deflationary pressure and sluggish economic growth. Comments following the policy meeting by ECB President Mario Draghi are expected to weigh on both the euro and EU equities as Draghi is expected to maintain his bias toward easy monetary policy.
Crude oil was down $1.08 to $102.20 per barrel. Natural gas was down $0.02 to $4.56 per 1 million BTU. Gold was up $0.80 to $1,338.70 an ounce, while silver was up $0.04 to $21.26 an ounce. Copper was down $0.01 to $3.21 per pound.
Among energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund was down 1.11% to $36.65 with the United States Natural Gas Fund was down 0.08% to $25.58. Amongst precious-metal funds, the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF was up 1.08% to 26.43 while SPDR Gold Shares was up 0.33% to $129.10. The iShares Silver Trust was up 0.41% to $20.46.
Here's where the markets stand at mid-day:
NYSE Composite Index down 9.60 (-0.09%) to 10,480.37
Dow Jones Industrial Average down 39.62 (-0.24%) to 16,356.26
S&P 500 down 0.69 (-0.04%) to 1,873.22
Nasdaq Composite Index down 2.96 (+0.07%) to 4,354.94
Nikkei 225 Index up 1.20%
Hang Seng Index down 0.34%
Shanghai China Composite Index down 0.89%
FTSE 100 Index down 0.71%
CAC 40 down 0.11%
DAX down 0.49%
NYSE SECTOR INDICES
NYSE Energy Sector Index down 0.66%
NYSE Financial Sector Index up 0.23%
NYSE Healthcare Sector Index down 0.13%
(+) DRAM (+13.55%) Expected to post first quarterly profit later this month.
(+) SWHC (+17.80%) Announced strong Q3 earnings after the close on Tuesday
(+) DARA (+10.35%) Soltamox drug available for Medicare Part D WellCare members.
(-) MGCD (-11.56%) Q4 results missed analyst expectations.
(-) IMRS, IM.TO (-18.25%) Reported bigger than expected Q4 loss.
(-) USU (-21.40%) Files for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
(-) CERE (-17.58%) Prices 20-million-share-sale at $1.00 apiece.