Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
Continuing with our recent theme of divergent data, today's U.S. economic news was mostly glum, yet the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) reversed yesterday's steep losses and headed higher.
What I suspected would have pushed the markets lower today was more poor data from the housing industry. The Mortgage Brokers Association's weekly data showed a 2.5% drop in mortgage originations, continuing a steady decline since early May as mortgage rates have risen. Furthermore, pending homes sales for the month of July dipped by 1.3%, which was a bit worse than forecast and noticeably lower than the 0.4% decline seen in June. Whether we want to admit it or not, it appears we're seeing the first signs that the housing sector may not be on as firm a foundation as we'd like to think.
Potential conflict with Syria was another sticking point; however, today it was a good one, lending strength to the energy sector which, for the most part, is loving higher oil prices which helps boost margins for drillers.
By the end of the day the S&P 500 had shaken off its very minimal early day losses and finished higher by 4.48 points (0.27%) to close at 1,634.96.
For a second-straight day, tire maker Goodyear Tire & Rubber (NASDAQ:GT) led the S&P 500 higher with a gain of 4.4%. Although there was no company-specific news today, the move appears to be a carryover from yesterday, where the company revealed the ability to freeze its defined benefit pension plans and replace them with a defined-benefit contribution plan when it's fully funded as per its four-year agreement with the United Steelworkers union. This deal will keep Goodyear's pensions costs lower than many on Wall Street had anticipated and allow it to be more price competitive with its peers. At just seven times forward earnings, it still looks like an intriguing buy candidate.
The two other largest gainers on the day came from the energy sector in Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) and Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD) which gained 3.7% and 3.3%, respectively. While neither company had any company-specific news moving their share price, the potential for conflict in Syria appears to have played a big part in the move. Fears of a potential disruption in oil imports sent West Texas Intermediate prices to a two-year intraday high, while pushing Brent crude to a six-month high. Higher oil prices usually result in beefier margins for oil companies, and are especially good news since many U.S.-based drillers have pushed their production output toward liquids like oil instead of natural gas.
One thing, as investors, that we still should keep in mind, though, is that there is a psychologically undefined point where oil prices become too high to sustain growth -- in essence, a level where prices at the pump become too much of a drag on the consumer. So while energy shareholders are cheering higher oil prices now, keep in mind there is a ceiling to their benefit.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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