U.S. stocks jumped out of the gate in early dealings, following the lead of a modest gain in pre-market futures, but have weakened as the morning trading session has progressed, with all three major equity averages slipping into the red. Supporting the early move higher was an 8.30 a.m. report that U.S. housing starts were slightly better than forecast. Buying enthusiasm has been dampened, however, by ongoing uncertainty over the outcome of Cyprus bank tax negotiations and the beginning of the U.S. Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting.
According to the Commerce Department, construction on new U.S. homes advanced 0.8% in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 917,000. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected construction starts in February to rise to a rate of 913,000 from an original January estimate of 890,000. Housing starts fell 8.5% in the prior month.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the government of Cyprus submitted a fresh draft bill to parliament that will scrap a controversial levy on bank deposits below 20,000 euros, which roiled world markets yesterday. The new proposal sets a 6.75% rate for amounts between 20,000 and 100,000 euros and maintains a 9.9% tax on all deposits above 100,000 euros.
Stateside the Federal Reserve kicks off the first day of its two-day interest-rate meeting. As usual, the Fed's policy statement will be released at the conclusion of the meeting, at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday, with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke due to hold a news conference at 2.30 p.m. ET.
Overseas, European bourses continued to be pressured to the downside by the Cyprus situation, although losses were muted in today's trading. Asian markets, meanwhile were mixed, with the Nikkei showing relative strength, jumping over 2%.
Commodities were mixed at mid-day. Oil was unchanged at $93.74 per barrel, while natural gas continued to rally, up $0.019 to $3.901 per million BTUs.
Gold futures continued to grapple with the $1600 level, slipping $2.1 per troy ounce $1,602.50. Silver was down $0.099 to $28.775 per ounce. Copper was down $0.0005 to $3,4285.
Here's where the markets stood at mid-day:
NYSE Composite down 36.90 (-0.41%) to 9,008.54
Dow Jones Industrial Average down 21.80 (-0.15%) to 14,430.26
S&P 500 down 6.39 (-0.41%) to 1,545.71
Nasdaq Composite Index down 13.50 (-0.42%) to 3,224.09
Nikkei 225 Index up 2.02%
Hang Seng Index down 0.19%
Shanghai China Composite Index up 0.76%
FTSE 100 Index down 0.01%
DAX down 0.51%
CAC 40 down 0.87%
NYSE SECTOR INDICES:
NYSE Energy Sector Index (^NYE) down 62.59 (-0.47%) at 13,141.90
NYSE Financial Sector Index (^NYK) down 8.88 (-0.16%) to 5,513.62
NYSE Healthcare Sector Index (^NYP) up 56.51 (+0.66%) to 8,674.78
(+) NTWK (+6%) Company announces it has signed an agreement to implement NetSol Financial Suite's Wholesale Finance System module with a leading Japanese auto captive finance company based in Thailand. The new agreement marks NetSol's sixth major engagement in that country.
(+) SBLK (+7.5%) Shares rise after the company reports total Q4 2012 revenues of $17.9 million, down from $28.6 million a year prior but more than the $16.9 million analysts expected, along with adjusted EPS of $0.05 for the quarter, better than the $0.13 per share loss analysts polled by Capital IQ.
(+) NPSP (+12%, near year highs) Pharma company extends Monday's after hours move, after it announced that it had regained full worldwide rights to teduglutide (Revestive) and recombinant human parathyroid hormone 1-84 (Preotact).
(-) HEP (-5.5%) Shares slip after company priced a public offering of common units at $40.80 per unit.
(-) INTX (-10%) Stock slides after the company reported Q4 consolidated net income of $1.6 million, or $0.08 per share, down from a $0.22 per share gain during the same quarter last year.
(-) HNR (-32.8%, has hit new year lows) Issue is hammered after the company said it will delay filing its 10-K report due to accounting errors, Reuters reported. The company may have to restate three years worth of results.
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