Despite mixed economic data released this morning, the markets held firm to the positive course chartered so far this year. For believers in the January Effect, which says that a positive first month is a precursor for the remaining 11, it bodes well for the rest of 2012.
But before we jump into the day's events, let's see how the three largest indices fared yesterday.
Gain / Loss
Gain / Loss %
|Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI )
|Nasdaq (INDEX: ^IXIC )
|S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC )
On the surface it looks like a relatively flat day, but the closing data doesn't tell the whole story. All three indices shook off negative mornings to record these small gains. The euro, gold, and 10-year Treasuries all edged up slightly while oil fell back under $100 a barrel. It's no surprise that the volatility was reflected in the Direxion Financial Bull 3X (NYSE: FAS ) levered ETF, which plunged more than 4% from its early high before ending back in positive territory up 1.3%. With JPMorgan Chase reporting tomorrow morning, expect more wild action for the ETF on Friday.
What caused the early dips? Higher-than-anticipated initial jobless claims of 399,000, topping consensus estimates by 24,000 -- even taking into account temporary seasonal workers. Even worse, retail sales came in up 0.1%, but removing December's strong auto sales, the number was negative. Analysts had expected shrinking growth of 0.3%, down sequentially from November's 0.4%, but to lay such an egg during the critical holiday season casts a pall over talk that the recovery is picking up steam.
Given all that, it was surprising to see that the biggest loser in the Dow was not a retail company at all. Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) gave us a preview that the fourth quarter was not kind to the oil giant, as it announced that results would come in "significantly below" the prior quarter. To no one's surprise, investors punished the stock, sending shares down 2.6%. And the culprit, also to no one's surprise, is the "downstream" refining end of the business, where rising oil prices have squeezed margins down to breakeven levels. Furthermore, the warm winter has come at a time when production is still ramping up, causing natural-gas prices to plummet all the way down to $2.69 per thousand cubic feet, a mark that has sent smaller less diverse companies toward 52-week lows.
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