For the third straight day all three major indexes are trading essentially flat, albeit with a positive lean. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) is our big gainer, up 42 points of 0.31%, with the S&P 500 hot on its heels with a 0.28% rise and the Nasdaq showing a 0.22% gain. Volatility, as measured by the VIX (INDEX: ^VIX ) , declined nearly 3%, putting it only 5% above its 52 week lows. Despite rumbles out of Europe over fiscal collapse and the depressed economy here at home, volatility has been largely absent from 2012.
The big headline story is declining oil prices. Thanks to sustained selling, the per-barrel cost has fallen from more than $100 last week down to just more than $92 today. The culprit appears to be a trifecta of profit-taking -- which we have broadly seen since the QE3 rally -- larger-than-expected inventory data, and continued concerns over global slowdown, despite strength in the domestic housing market. While the decline could show pessimism, paradoxically, lower prices at the pump should boost the recovery, so cheaper oil will boost most Dow components if it proves to be more than a temporary blip.
The Dow's two big oil majors, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) , are feeling the brunt of it, down 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively. Other than Hewlett-Packard, they're the index's worst performers.
Of course, lower commodity prices hit the smaller, independent producers worse, given their higher acquisition costs, so it's no surprise that Northern Oil and Gas (NYSE: NOG ) is plummeting 3.6% today. However, if you believe energy prices will eventually settle in the triple digits as the world continues to develop, then a sustained dip could present a buying opportunity, as both Exxon and Chevron are currently near 52-week highs.
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