Stocks Sleepwalk to Flat Finish in Wake of Mixed Economic Signals


FOX Business: The Power to Prosper

U.S. stocks crawled to a mostly unchanged close on very light volume on Wednesday as a mixed batch of economic reports failed to jolt Wall Street from this week’s quiet sleepwalk.

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Today’s Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 7.36 points, or 0.06%, to 13164.78, the S&P 500 added 1.60 points, or 0.11%, to 1405.53 and the Nasdaq Composite gained 13.95 points, or 0.46%, to 3030.93. The FOX50 dipped 0.23 points, or 0.02%, to 1055.63.

While the mixed finish left the blue chips in the red for the second time in three days and on pace to break a five-week win streak, the benchmark index has retreated barely 40 points so far this week.

Underscoring the quiet nature of Wednesday’s session, composite volume on the New York Stock Exchange stood at just 2.6 billion shares, the fourth-straight sub-3 billion share day and well below the 2012 average of 3.7 billion.

Jason Weisberg, senior vice president at Seaport Securities, said he thinks the markets are stuck in a wait-and-see mode.

“I thought we’d see some reaction after the Olympics. But the Europeans are still on vacation. I think post-election is the only time we’re going to see any real action,” Weisberg told FOX Business.

Just over half of the Dow's 30 members gained ground, led by Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) ahead of its earnings report. The index's biggest percentage losers were Merck (NYSE:MRK) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).

Despite the lack of movement on Wall Street, traders received a slew of conflicting economic headlines on Wednesday.

On the positive side, the National Association of Home Builders said its U.S. home builder sentiment index rose to 37 in August from 35 in July, marking the highest level since February 2007. Home building stocks like Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) and KB Home (NYSE:KBH) closed mixed in the aftermath of the report.

Also, the Federal Reserve said industrial production picked up steam in July, jumping 0.6% from June -- the fourth consecutive monthly rise and largest since April.

On the other hand, the Empire Manufacturing index showed activity in the New York area unexpectedly turned negative for the first time since October, coming in at -5.85 in August from 7.39 the month before. Economists had been bracing for a more modest decline to 6.5.

“Numbers such as these provide no comfort. Economic data of late had been better than expected so let’s hope today’s number is not the start of a trend reversal,” Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG, said in a note.

U.S. stocks received a slight boost on Tuesday after the government said retail sales broke a three-month slump in July, enjoying their strongest rise since February.

Also on the economic front on Wednesday, the Labor Department said consumer prices were flat in July from June, compared with forecasts for a 0.2% rise. Excluding food and energy, prices were up 0.1%, just under the expected 0.2% estimated increase.

In the commodities complex, crude oil rose 90 cents a barrel, or 0.96%, to $94.33. Gold advanced for the fourth day of the past six, gaining $4.30 a troy ounce, or 0.27%, to $1,603.70.

Corporate Movers

Target (NYSE:TGT) topped forecasts with EPS of $1.06 last quarter and upgraded its full-year earnings guidance above the Street's view. The discount retailer's outlook for the current quarter would also surpass estimates.

Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) tumbled 14% after disclosing a worse-than-expected 32% tumble in earnings. The office supplies retailer also missed estimates with a 5.5% decline in sales to $5.5 billion and cut its full-year outlook.

Deere (NYSE:DE) retreated 6% after posting EPS of $1.98, widely trailing estimates for $2.38. The agricultural and construction equipment maker's sales rose 15% to $9.6 billion, narrowly beating the Street.

Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) disclosed a 52% plunge in second-quarter earnings, but topped the Street's beaten-down expectations. Sale-store sales contracted 10%, the first decline since 2009. A&F also boosted its share buyback plans by 10 million shares.

Carlyle Group (NYSE:CG) scooped up a controlling stake in Getty Images from private-equity firm Hellman & Friedman for $3.3 billion. Carlyle beat out rivals KKR (NYSE:KKR) and TPG.

Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Target (NYSE:TGT) and a slew of other retailers unveiled a mobile-payments alliance. The venture, called the Merchant Customer Exchange, could rival similar systems from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and wireless providers like AT&T (NYSE:T).

Global Markets

The U.K.’s FTSE 100 fell 0.54% to 5833.04, the French CAC 40 dipped 0.03% to 3449.20 and Germany’s DAX slid 0.40% to 6946.80.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 0.05% to 8925.04 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng retreated 1.18% to 20052.29.