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.
It was another day of mixed economic data, as well as a whooping for the largest S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) component Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), but the broad-based index somehow managed to add to its gains for a seventh-straight day.
On the economic front, more poor news from the Mortgage Brokers Association got us started on a sour note. Last week, with mortgage rates inching up slightly to an average of 4.57% -- about 120 basis points off their record lows set in May -- mortgage applications, which include new home loans as well as refinancing, fell by 13.5%. Since May, mortgage applications have tumbled 59% and could signal that trouble is brewing in the housing and banking sector if rates continue to rise.
Apple was also a sour note in today's modest rally, falling nearly $30 a share at one point after it unveiled two new tiers of iPhone devices yesterday. Specifically, Wall Street seems disappointed at the pricing of the cheaper iPhone 5C, which comes in with an unsubsidized (i.e., no contract plan attached) price of $549. Analysts were looking for a price point closer to $450 to spur sales. That prompted UBS, Merrill Lynch, and Credit Suisse to cut their rating on Apple to their equivalent of a hold from a buy.
Still, ongoing improvements pertaining to Syria proved enough to help push the S&P 500 higher, yet again, by 5.14 points (0.31%) to close at 1,689.13. The S&P's seven-day gain has also put it within striking distance (about 20.5 points) from hitting another new all-time closing high.
Here's a name we don't talk about all that often, but oil and gas driller Newfield Exploration (NYSE:NFX) topped the charts with a stunning 7.5% gain for the day. Even more interesting, it did so without any company-specific news. Newfield is scheduled to present at the Barclays CEO Energy-Power Conference tomorrow morning, but today's move appears to be related more to emotional trading than anything substantive. What shareholders will really want to keep track of is whether oil prices are heading higher or not. Higher oil prices will help Newfield's margins and could help it overcome the stigma of missing the Street's EPS projections in three of the past four quarters.
Not too far behind Newfield was energy peer WPX Energy (NYSE:WPX), which added 4.7%, also without any company-specific news. The move becomes even odder when you consider that natural gas, the company's most abundant asset, actually fell $0.02 per thousand btus today. However, if you look at the big picture, WPX Energy has seen natural gas prices bounce from an intraday low of less than $3.20 per thousand btus in early August to today's close of $3.57. With the prospect of a U.S. strike on Syria still on the table, natural gas could be relied upon even more if there's any disruption to the oil markets or if the price of West Texas Intermediate continues to head higher.
Finally -- and to keep with today's theme of confusing moves -- homebuilder Lennar (NYSE:LEN) tacked on 3.4%. On the bright side, research firm CoreLogic put out an aggregate report on the housing industry detailing that over the past year negative equity homes have dropped from close to 11 million households to a hair above 7 million. That clear sign that home prices are appreciating once again apparently proved to be enough to push Lennar higher. On the downside, of course, we have another week of disappointing mortgage application data. Regardless of how tight Lennar keeps its inventory, if consumers continue to avoid refinancing and new home loan activity because of a 100-basis point jump in mortgage rates, the homebuilding industry could be in trouble.
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.
The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.