Stocks are higher at the session's half, snapping a four-session losing streak so far in a cautious rally. The gain comes a day after the S&P 500 closed at its lowest level since March and has fallen 4.9% since the start of May. A speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke late in the session could sway trading.
Early analysis suggests the Fed chief will support continuing current interest rates and possibly back more economic stimulus given May's weak employment report. But he faces opposition. Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, said he would oppose any effort at the central bank to launch another round of asset purchases, known as quantitative easing, or QE3.
Fisher said during an appearance on CNBC that the Fed has already filled the economy's gas tank and now investors and businesses have to step on the pedal. The weak May unemployment report was not a game-changer, and growth should pick up in the second half of the year, he said.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meets Wednesday in Vienna. Some OPEC officials reportedly believe prices are too high and threaten the global economic recovery, according to the Associated Press. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, has indicated prices should be between $70 and $80 a barrel, although other exporters want prices between $100 and $120 a barrel.
In company news:
Shares of Medco Health Solutions ( MHS ) are higher in after-hours trading as Bloomberg reports the pharmacy benefits manager may be seeking acquisitions to make up for lost sales. An $11 billion contract with UnitedHealth Group ( UNH ) expires after 2012, the report noted. UnitedHealth is currently reviewing the contract.
McDonald's Corp. (MCD) is higher after a Janey Capital Markets analyst dropped his estimate on May U.S. same-store sales, but tempered that with a raised June estimate and positive comments about overall trends. He reiterated his "buy" rating. Analyst Mark Kalinowski said he expects a 2.8% increase in U.S. same-store sales in May, down from his previous estimate for a 3% gain. But he sees June sales rising 2.6%, up from a previous guide for a 2.5% increase based on survey results.
Hess ( HES ) shares are higher after it said it has filed a Notice of Discovery with the Minister for Energy of Ghana for the Paradise-1 exploration well in the Deepwater Tano / Cape Three Points license, offshore Ghana. The well encountered an estimated 490 net feet of oil and gas condensate pay over three separate intervals.
Expedia ( EXPE ) is higher after Citigroup raises its price estimate to $33 from $29, citing positive industry trends that should benefit margins, Bloomberg reports.
Skyworks Solutions ( SWKS ) is sharply higher after it affirmed its outlook for above market growth, excluding its recently announced acquisitions. It sees $345 million in revenue with non-GAAP diluted earnings per share of $0.46 for the current quarter. The Thomson Reuters mean is for sales of $345.27 million and EPS of $0.46. It says it is on a path to approach a $1.5 billion revenue run rate with $2.00 in annualized non-GAAP diluted EPS in the September quarter.
General Motors (GM) briefly bounced into the red after opening higher, but has rebounded, up near 1%, after Chief Executive Daniel Akerson raised concerns today about unemployment and the weak economic recovery. The U.S. Treasury Department still holds a 32% stake in GM, which was forced into bankruptcy reorganization during the financial crisis.
Liberty Media (LCAPA) reported today that The Bank of New York Mellon (BK) Trust Company, N.A. has appealed the Delaware Court of Chancery's ruling that the pending split-off of the Liberty Capital and Liberty Starz tracking stock groups will not constitute a disposition of all or substantially all the assets of Liberty Mediaunder the indenture governing its public indebtedness.
Commodities are lower. August gold contracts are down 0.53%, to $1,539 an ounce while July crude oil contacts are down 0.62% to $98.40 a barrel.
In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is down 0.36% to $39.30 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is down 0.37%, to $12.18.
In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is down 0.35% at $149.95. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is down 0.29% to $54.66. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 0.39% to $35.85.
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