TOM HUDSON: We did see a bit of relief buying on this first day after a
very decent February came to a bit of a quiet end yesterday. Let’s go ahead
and get you updated with tonight’s “Market Focus.” You can fairly describe
it as modest gains in stocks as those energy prices did heat up late in the
day and we’re going to begin with oil. The last five sessions, look at the
volatility we’ve seen here. Until this afternoon, pricing had been cooling
a little, but rumors of that pipeline explosion in Saudi Arabia, which has
been denied, was enough to trigger some buying and as we mentioned, oil
prices popping here late in the day. It did not spook the S&P 500. It was
helped out by those more encouraging signs the economy is strengthening.
The index closed just shy of a multi-year high. Banks were back in the
lead, with the financial sector rising more than 1 percent.
The materials and energy sectors also added about 1 percent on the
backs of stronger jobs and that retail sales data. Goldman Sachs was the
best in the banking sector on the heels of an acquisition and some
optimistic analyst comments. GS the ticker here for Goldman jumping 5
percent. Volume almost doubled, the stock trading over $120 per share for
the first time since August. Goldman is buying an insurance and re-
insurance operation based in Bermuda.
Meantime, Normura Securities bumped up its earnings estimates for
several banks, including Goldman. Improving economic data and the growing
comfort level with the Greece debt trouble gets the credit for the
optimism. Speaking of Greece, an important technical distinction was made
today. A group called the International Swaps and Derivatives Association,
that’s the group for derivatives that are not traded on exchanges, it
decided that Greece’s new law forcing private lenders to accept losses on
their bonds does not trigger pay-outs covering what is essentially
insurance on those government bonds, a technical distinction, but an
Banking stocks helped the Dow Industrials. JPMorgan rallied almost 3
percent on the session. B of A very actively traded, up almost 2 percent.
Today’s improving figures on fewer Americans filing for first-time
unemployment benefits was not necessarily behind a big jump in Monster
Worldwide (NYSE:MWW), the online jobs site. Instead, the CEO says he’s
considering strategic alternatives. That’s usually Wall Street speak for
the company may be for sale. Shares of MWW shot up 15 percent, very heavy
volume trade. The company did not elaborate on the CEO’s comments, but they
come as the share price is half what it was one year ago. Competition from
Facebook and Linkedin has hurt its traditional market.
Another company suffering from tough competition — Blackberry device
maker Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM). Shares sank 4 percent on the
session after an analyst speculated the company will issue a warning about
slower demand for Blackberries. The company’s quarter ends this Saturday.
It’s warned about profits twice in the past 12 months.
We mentioned some of the stronger February retail sales reports
earlier. Those translated into stock gains for those stores that were able
to surprise Wall Street to the upside. The Gap (NYSE:GPS) jumped more than
7.5 percent. In fact this is a new 52-week high for GPS. Macy’s (NYSE:M)
meantime is at a four and a half year high, up more than 2 percent. But
Kohl’s (NYSE:KSS) stock fell more than 1.5 percent after disappointing with
its February sales.
One more note from a retailer of sorts — grocery store chain Kroger
(NYSE:KR). The stock shot up almost 3 percent, big move for a grocery
stock. Volume more than doubled as the company predicted higher earnings
this year than Wall Street expected. The company reported steady sales
volume in the fourth quarter, despite higher gas prices, higher food
prices, and other grocery stores actually seeing a drop in sales volume.
And that is tonight’s “Market Focus.”