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Stocks inch lower, trapped in range

Stocks are down slightly today, continuing to squeeze into a range before tomorrow's big jobs report.

S&P 500 futures have recovered somewhat in the last hour but are still down about 0.1 percent. Europe is little-changed, while Asia was broadly higher thanks to gains of more than 1 percent in Mumbai and Tokyo. The euro is rising again as well.

The S&P 500 has managed to hold support at its rising 100-day, but has increasingly shown signs of fatigue after an historic nine-quarter run. Leadership also appears to merely shifting overseas as investors rediscover countries like Russia, Brazil, China and India. Those are the four strongest countries in the last month, according to our researchLAB market scanner, while the S&P 500 has fallen near the bottom of the list.

European economic news corresponds with the change. Confidence surveys from the region have been very strong for months, and yesterday key manufacturing data was revised higher. Most U.S. reports, especially those associated with the industrial sector like the Institute for Supply Management's gauge and durable-goods orders, have missed recently.

That raises the stakes for tomorrow's non-farm payrolls report. A miss would likely push U.S. interest rates lower and lift foreign currencies like the euro and Canadian dollar, which in turn could help oil. A strong reading could drive up rates and hammer equities. Either way, trading is closed for Good Friday so the main reaction will come Monday.

Today's events are initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET, factory orders at 10 a.m. ET, and natural-gas inventories at 10:30 a.m. ET.

In company-specific news, CarMax rose 3 percent after earnings and revenue beat expectations. It's also consistent with the recent strength seen in retail/consumer names.

Other groups that have done well on researchLAB include property-management, financial guarantors, tire makers, and car-rental agencies. But the biggest trend overall, aside from the international shift, has been strength in weak-dollar stocks such as gold miners and energy names.

Oil fell about 2 percent but remains above yesterday's lows and metals are down across the board. The euro is up against the greenback and Japanese yen. The Australian dollar also remains under heavy pressure, while the Canadian currency has fared better.

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

Copyright © 2010 OptionMonster® Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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

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