After last week's brutal sell-off, stocks are poised to begin the week on a high note. Investors are hopeful this Monday morning, with expectations high ahead of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech on Friday. Later this week, U.S. and international central bankers are scheduled to meet in Jackson Hole, Wyo., for an annual conference organized by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. Bernanke's address on Friday has raised hopes of further stimulus from the Fed, which at the same event last year signaled plans for a second round of quantitative easing.
Also boosting sentiment this morning are hopes for lower oil prices, as it seems that Muammar Gaddafi's regime is on the verge of collapse. President Barack Obama on Sunday called on the Libyan president to step down; and earlier today, NATO confirmed that the Gaddafi regime "is clearly crumbling." Should the regime fall, analysts believe that oil prices are likely to slide, too. Amid this backdrop, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA ) are hovering over 137 points north of fair value, while the S&P 500 Index (SPX) is trading 17 points higher. However, with Bernanke not taking the stage until Friday, the market could remain somewhat range-bound this week -- which would be a welcome change, given the recent violent volatility plaguing stocks.
Similarly, Westlake Chemical Corporation (WLK - 37.81) also announced stock buyback plans. Earlier this morning, the company said it plans to buy back as much as $100 million of its stock on the open market or privately. The chemical concern also hiked its quarterly dividend by 16%, to 7.375 cents per share. The dividend will be payable Sept. 13 to holders of record Sept. 2.
There are no major economic releases scheduled for today. Tuesday's economic calendar features new home sales for July, along with the Richmond Fed's manufacturing index for August. Durable goods orders for July are due out on Wednesday, as well as the regularly scheduled update on petroleum stockpiles. Thursday brings our usual weekly report on initial and continuing jobless claims. The economic calendar ends with a bang on Friday, with all eyes turning to Jackson Hole and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's highly anticipated speech on "Near- and Long-Term Prospects for the U.S. Economy." Also slated to hit the Street are the Commerce Department's revised estimate of second-quarter gross domestic product ( GDP ), and the final Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for August.
Equity option activity on the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) saw 1,085,078 call contracts traded on Friday, compared to 1,132,715 put contracts. The resultant single-session put/call ratio arrived at 1.04, while the 21-day moving average was 0.79.
Stocks in Asia ended mostly lower today, though Hong Kong-listed equities were able to snap their four-day slump. Banking issue HSBC led the advance, rising 2% to recover some recent losses. Elsewhere in the region, lackluster corporate earnings and ongoing concerns about the health of the global economy kept most traders on the sidelines. In Tokyo, the yen retreated from its freshly tagged post-World War II peak against the dollar, but remained strong enough to keep exporters under familiar pressure. By the close, South Korea's Kospi slid 2%, Japan's Nikkei fell 1%, China's Shanghai Composite gave up 0.7%, and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5%.
Conversely, European markets are pointed higher at midday. Eni helped lead the regional gainers, with the Italian oil-and-gas issue rallying on news that rebels took the Libyan capital of Tripoli. However, financial stocks slipped after Deutsche Bank downgraded the group to "neutral" from "overweight," citing concerns over slackening euro-zone growth. At last check, the French CAC 40 is up 2%, London's FTSE 100 is 2.5% higher, and the German DAX has climbed 1%.
Currencies and Commodities
Crude futures have advanced this morning, as reports that Muammar Gaddafi may be stepping down have bolstered hopes for ramped-up production. Ahead of the open, crude futures are up 0.8 point, or 1%. Meanwhile, after last week's dramatic sell-off, the U.S. dollar index is trading 0.1 point, or 0.2%, lower. Elsewhere, with larger global economic issues weighing on sentiment, gold has continued its record-setting rally. Ahead of the open, gold futures are up 23.4 points, or 1.3%, to hover around $1,875.60 an ounce.
Unusual Put and Call Activity:
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