Equities Settle Near Highs
26-Feb-13 16:15 ET
[BRIEFING.COM] The S&P 500 ended today's session with a gain of 0.6% despite enduring some early weakness. The benchmark average started the day on a positive note with upbeat economic data proving insufficient in staving off the early selling pressure. However, markets staged a rebound in afternoon trade with the key indices climbing to fresh highs.
Consumer discretionary stocks were among today's top performers, largely due to upbeat February consumer confidence, which was reported at 69.0. In addition, January new home sales of 437,000 were reported well ahead of the Briefing.com consensus.
The strong housing data coupled with a healthy rise in December home prices provided support for homebuilders. DR Horton (DHI 22.25, +0.88) and Lennar (LEN 38.01, +1.35) both gained near 4.0%, and the broader SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB 27.77, +0.80) advanced 3.0%.
Discretionary shares also received support after Home Depot (HD 67.56, +3.64) reported better-than-expected earnings and revenue. In addition, the company hiked its quarterly dividend by 34% to $0.39/share and authorized a $17 billion share repurchase program. The Dow component jumped 5.7%, contributing to the relative strength of the blue chip average.
While discretionary shares outperformed, consumer staples finished as one of the weakest sectors. Tyson Foods (TSN 22.40, -0.86) slipped 3.7% after saying margin compression has taken a bite out of its beef and pork segments. Meanwhile, United Natural Foods (UNFI 50.45, -2.55) slid 4.8% after guiding on the low end of analyst estimates, citing rising costs.
The materials sector has been one of the weakest performers dating back to last week, but the space led today's rebound. The SPDR Materials Select Sector ETF (XLB 37.75, +0.40) gained 1.1% amid outperformance from chemical and paper producers. Monsanto (MON 99.20, +1.11) advanced 1.1% and International Paper (IP 42.75, +0.96) climbed 2.3%.
Similar to materials, the financial sector has shown notable sensitivity to the market swings of recent days. With exposure to Italian and other sovereign debt, a rise in political uncertainty runs the risk of turning into financial instability. Today, bank stocks trailed behind the broader market and the SPDR Financial Select Sector ETF (XLF 17.35, +0.09) added 0.5%.
Floor volume at the New York Stock Exchange was slightly above average as 772 million shares changed hands. Notably, today's session saw thinner volume than yesterday's sell off with the Tuesday total also running behind high volume sessions of last week.
With the focus remaining on Italy, concerns over the country's near-term future were also brought up during today's Humphrey-Hawkins Testimony. Speaking before the Senate, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that a need to write-down Italian debt would not inflict serious damage on U.S. financial institutions.
The rest of Mr. Bernanke's remarks at today's testimony have struck a now-familiar tone. The Chairman highlighted the perceived benefits of current monetary policy but also acknowledged very low interest rates could push portfolio managers into a "reach for yield," thus causing them to assume outsized risk.
Regarding the March 1 implementation of automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester," the Chairman does not expect to see an immediate impact, but foresees a build-up of effects over time.
In tomorrow's economic data, the weekly MBA Mortgage Index will be reported at 7:00 ET. At 8:30 January durable goods and durable goods ex-transportation will be released. The day's economic data will be topped off with the 10:00 ET release of January pending home sales.
Also at 10:00 ET, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will testify before the House Financial Services Committee, concluding the two-day event. On the earnings front, Joy Global (JOY 59.96, +0.26) and Target (TGT 64.05, +1.16) are scheduled to report their quarterly results before the opening bell.
The U.S. Treasury will auction off $29 billion in 7-yr notes.