Why Stocks Are Marginally Lower Today

Stocks are marginally lower today after a pair of blue chip earnings releases before the bell and anticipation surrounding a slew of technology companies that report after the market closes. At roughly halfway through the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is off by nine points, or 0.06%.

What's moving the market today
Aside from earnings, which I discuss below, the biggest news roiling the markets today came courtesy of the Bank of Japan. This morning the East Asian country's central bank announced its decision to launch open-ended monetary policy meant to spur a 2% inflation rate. Japan has been stuck in a gradual deflationary cycle since its own real estate bubble crash nearly 20 years ago.

Although the move was hailed by political policymakers in Japan, it's caused central bankers around the world to warn of an intensifying currency war. Most notably, Jens Weidmann, a European Central Bank policymaker, said that the decision could spark a "devaluation competition" among other nations seeking to spur their own exports.

Meanwhile, here on the home front, data released this morning from the National Association of Realtors showed that existing home sales fell by 1% in December compared to November, but gained 12.8% over the same month in 2011. The preliminary estimate for total existing home sales last year came in at 4.65 million. This was up 9.2% on a year-over-year basis from the 4.26 million sales the previous year.

These gains were fueled by three factors. First, the average rate on 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgages fell to a record low 3.35% in the last month of 2012. Second, housing inventory is contracting. The 4.4-month supply of homes on the market in December was the lowest such level since May 2005, near the peak of the housing bubble. And finally, cash-rich investors continue to flood into the market, accounting for more than a fifth of existing home sales last month.

Earnings
In terms of individual stocks, all the news today concerned earnings, as four of the Dow's component stocks released earnings figures for the fourth quarter of 2012. Of the companies that reported, shares of Travelers (NYSE: TRV  ) , DuPont  (NYSE: DD  ) , and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) are all higher while shares of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) are trading down.

Travelers, one of America's largest property-casualty insurers, reported profits that fell 51% on a year-over-year basis due to claims related to Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the Northeast at the end of October. The results nevertheless exceeded analyst expectations. For the quarter, the company earned $0.78 per share compared to estimates of $0.72 per share.

DuPont similarly notched a decline in profits, reporting earnings of $0.12 per share in the fourth quarter of 2012 relative to $0.40 per share in the same three-month period in 2011. Shares are nevertheless up, as the figure beat the consensus estimate of $0.07 per share.

Verizon's results diverged widely with respect to the top and bottom lines. While quarterly revenue grew by 5.7% on a year-over-year basis thanks to higher wireless subscriber counts, the company saw its quarterly loss expand to $4.23 billion compared to a $2.02 billion loss a year ago.

Finally, shares of Johnson & Johnson are down despite the company reporting a surge in fourth-quarter profits from the same quarter in 2011, though the difference was largely attributable to onetime charge-offs in the year-ago period. For the quarter, the pharmaceutical company earned $0.91 per share. Analysts had expected the figure to come in at $1.17 per share.

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