Stocks end little changed despite China news

The Dow struggles to a 38-point gain as China shows more signs of softening. Investors await results of Tuesday's Fed meeting. Apple shares hit new highs on iPad demand. Harley-Davidson first-quarter sales are strong. Gold and crude oil fall.

By Charley Blaine Mar 12, 2012 1:03PM
Charley Blaine Updated: 9:25 p.m. ET

Stocks finished basically flat today as investors fretted about Chinese economic growth and awaited the results of the Federal Reserve's Tuesday meeting.

China reported its largest trade deficit in 12 years as exports grew at a slower rate than expected in February. Commodity prices pulled back. Gold (-GC) settled below $1,700 an ounce. Crude oil (-CL) fell below $106 a barrel before rebounding. Coffee continued a slump that began last week with news that Brazil would likely see a record harvest in 2012. Prices are at two-year lows.

The retail price of gasoline topped $3.80 a gallon today for the first time since May 27, 2011, AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report said. AAA's daily report shows the all-time high was $4.1143 a gallon, reached on July 17, 2008.

Apple (AAPL) closed at $552, a new all-time high as well as a new closing high. Investors pushed IBM (IBM), Sherwin-Williams (SHW) and Panera Bread (PNRA) to all-time highs, but those gains weren't enough to offset weakness in semiconductor, financial, energy and metals stocks.

The Dow Jones industrials ($INDU) closed up 38 points to 12,960, their fourth straight gain. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) was up slightly at 1,371, and the Nasdaq Composite Index ($COMPX) was off 5 points to 2,984.

Article continues below.
The Nasdaq-100 Index ($NDX), which tracks the largest Nasdaq stocks, finished unchanged at 2,646.

But two other important indexes signaled that any gains today would be limited. The Russell 2000 Index ($RUT) was down slightly at 759. The Dow Jones Transportation Average ($DJT) was off 18 points to 5,144. For the market to push markedly higher, these indexes should be rising.

European stocks were also flat ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, Belgium, today. The ministers are expected to approve the terms of Greece's second bailout.

Stocks have cooled off considerably in March after strong gains in January and February. The Dow is up 0.1% for the month, with the S&P 500 up 0.4% and the Nasdaq up 0.5%. The Dow was up 5.9% in January and February, with the S&P 500 up 8.4% and the Nasdaq 13.5%.

One reason has been worries that the rally had moved ahead of economic reality. One big head wind: those rising gasoline prices, which are causing drivers to curtail unnecessary driving. Another issue has been how Europe's debt crisis would affect U.S. stocks.

It's not clear yet what other effects rising pump prices will have on the economy.

Futures trading suggests U.S. stocks will open higher.

Urban Outfitters misses Street estimates
After the close, shares of apparel retailer Urban Outfitters (URBN) fell 5.4% to $27.93 after earnings fell 48% from a year ago. Sales were up 9%. Shares had risen a penny to $29.51 in regular hours.

The company operates lifestyle specialty retail stores under the Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, Leifsdottir, and BHLDN brands. I

The company earned $39.3 million, or 27 cents a share, compared with $75.2 million, or 45 cents a share, a year ago. Analysts had expected 29 cents a share in earnings. Revenue of $730.7 million missed the consensus estimate of $741.4 million.

Profit-margins were squeezed by slow-moving merchandise, but the company insisted margins will be improving significantly in the first half of the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Shares fell nearly 24% in 2011 and, as of today's close, were up slightly this year.

China's trade deficit jumps
China's trade deficit totaled $31.48 billion in February.

The surprise of the report is this: China is normally a net exporter of goods -- it recorded a surplus of $27.28 billion in January. But total monthly imports rose 39.6% from a year ago to $145.96 billion, with exports rising 18.4% to $114.47 billion, according to Agence France Presse.

Exports from China to the West are suffering from the effects of the eurozone debt crisis and weak economic recovery in the United States.

The deficit was the largest for at least 12 years, according to Dow Jones Newswires records, and far in excess of the median forecast of $8.5 billion among the 15 economists it had surveyed.

Waiting for the Fed

The Fed's rate-making body, the Federal Open Market Committee, meets Tuesday. It is not expected to move on interest rates. The current target for the federal funds rate is 0% to 0.25%. An announcement is expected at 2:15 p.m. ET.

The federal funds rate is what banks charge each other for overnight loans and is the starting point for U.S. interest rates.

Instead, the FOMC will probably note the economic recovery is proceeding at a moderate pace, with the jobs market showing more strength than expected. But it will note that the residential real estate market is weak and global economic growth is constrained by problems in Europe.

It almost certainly won't discuss any moves to provide more economic stimulus.
Crude oil, gold drop
Crude oil settled down off $1.06 to $106.34 a barrel after falling to as low as $105.38 overnight. Brent crude was down 54 cents to $125.44.

Gold settled down $11.70 to $1,699.80 an ounce but had moved over $1,700 in electronic trading. Silver (-SI) settled down 7.99 cents to $33.413 an ounce. Copper (-HG) had fallen 2.1 cents to $3.8375 a pound.

Interest rates were lower, with the 10-year Treasury yield falling to 2.028% from 2.038% on Friday. The dollar was flat against major currencies.

Energy prices -- New York close



Month chg.

YTD chg.
Crude oil (-CL)




(per barrel)

Heating oil (-HO)




(per gallon)

Natural gas (-NG)




(per mil. BTU)

Unleaded gasoline (-RB)




(per gallon)

Brent crude 




(per barrel)

Retail gasoline




(per gallon; AAA)

Disney shares see small gain despite 'John Carter' flop
Shares of Walt Disney were up 10 cents to $42.34, even as analysts and critics roundly panned the performance of "John Carter," its $250 million sci-fi film that took in only $30 million in U.S. theaters over the weekend.

The New York Times suggested Disney will need to take a quarterly write-down of as much as $160 million because of the movie's  poor performance. To break even, the Times said, the film will have to gross as much as $600 million, a feat that seems impossible.

The movie was hampered by poor source materials, a director who had never made a live-action film, a bad script and a no-name star.

But Wall Street still likes Disney and CEO Bob Iger. Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia even upgraded the shares to "buy" from "neutral."

Apple swamped with iPad demand
Apple shares surged after the company said it had huge pre-release orders for its new iPad tablet and may not be able to make deliveries for at least a week, perhaps two. The tablet will hit retail stores this week.

IBM hit a new all-time high of $201.57 before falling back to $201, up 38 cents. The stock topped $200 for the first time a week ago but was hit by the Tuesday sell-off. 

Harley-Davidson (HOG) added $1.23 to $48.11. The motorcycle maker had its share-price estimate boosted to $50 from $46 by Citigroup, which said the company’s retail sales have increased 16% to 18% so far in the first quarter. The percentage gain was fourth-best among S&P 500 stocks.

FuelCell Energy (FCEL) reported a first-quarter loss of 5 cents a share, compared with the loss of 6 cents a share expected by analysts. Shares were up 11 cents to $1.61.

Cruise-line operator Carnival (CCL) shares climbed 31 cents to $30.88 after being upgraded to "outperform" from "underperform" by Exane BNP Paribas. Shares were hurt by its cruise-ship accidents.

PepsiCo (PEP) shares rose 79 cents to $63.94. The beverage-and-snack company named former senior Wal-Mart (WMT) executive Brian Cornell to head Pepsi's largest and most profitable unit, the Americas-wide food division. PepsiCo has also named longtime company executive John Compton to the new position of president. It's viewed that the appointments position both men, and European operations chief Zein Abdalla, as the top internal candidates to succeed CEO Indra Nooyi, who has been getting heat from investors.

Chinese online video giant (YOKU) announced that it's buying rival Tudou (TUDO) in an all-stock deal valued at more than $1 billion. The combined entity will be called Youku Tudou and become a leading online video company in the world's largest Internet market. Tudou reported a net loss of 511.2 million yuan ($81.2 million) last year, while Youku said today it had lost 172.1 million yuan. Youku rose $6.84 to $31.85. Tudou soared $24.09 to $39.48.

Defensive stocks rule
Twenty-two of the 30 Dow stocks were higher today, led by Exxon Mobil (XOM), up $1.25 to $85.55. That was good for 9.5 Dow points. Exxon was followed by Procter & Gamble (PG), 3M (MMM), Coca-Cola (KO) and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), all defensive stocks.

The laggard was Caterpillar (CAT), down $1.28 to $108.94.

While the Nasdaq-100 was flat on the day, only 36 stocks in the index were higher, led by Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN), up $3.14 to $87.87, and Warner Chilcott (WCRX), up 44 cents to $17.11. Apple added nearly 6 points to the index.

Meanwhile, 231 S&P 500 stocks were higher, led by Equifax (EFX), Moody's (MCO) and Constellation Energy Group (CEG).

First Solar (FLSR), down $1.66 to $25.83, and QEP Resources (QEP), down $1.34 to $30.65, were the laggards.

Short hits from the markets -- New York close



Month chg.

YTD chg.
Treasury yields

13-week Treasury bill

0.0800%  0.080%

0.00%  700.00%
5-year Treasury note 

0.906%  0.904%

3.54%  9.16%
10-year Treasury note

2.031%  2.038%

2.73%  8.55%
30-year Treasury bond

3.170%  3.189%

2.72%  9.73%

U.S. Dollar Index

79.913  80.084  1.42%  -0.76%
British pound

1.5645  1.5676  -1.81%  0.69%
(in U.S. $)

U.S. $ in pounds

£0.639  £0.638  1.85%  -0.68%
Euro in dollars

$1.32  $1.31  -1.39%  1.53%
(in U.S. $)

U.S. $ in euros

€ 0.760  € 0.762  1.41%  -1.50%
U.S. $ in yen 

82.44  82.51  1.32%   6.92%
U.S. $ in Chinese

6.35  6.31  0.48%  0.36%

Canada dollar

$1.007  $0.990  -0.50%  2.66%
(in U.S. $)

U.S. dollar 

$0.994  $0.990  0.50%  -2.59%
(in Canadian $)





Gold (-GC)




(per troy ounce)

Copper (-HG)




(per pound)

Silver (-SI)




(per troy ounce)

Wheat (-ZW)




(per bushel)

Corn (-ZC)




(per bushel)





(per pound)





(per pound)

Crude oil (-CL)




(per barrel)


Mar 12, 2012 3:35PM

If anyone has been paying attention to these past few weeks, here are some interensting factoids:

1. Americans are using more credit, savings rates are falling, what we are producing we can't afford to buy.

2. China IS SLOWING DOWN, maybe not a "hard" landing, but a landing nonetheless.  Thus no matter how our present gov't spins it's numbers, you can't fudge all the numbers, especially those from other countries.  Who is going to buy their stuff??

3. Europe IS IN A RECESSION, today on CNBC (Europe Pre-Squawk show), someone noted that banks are beginning to depend entirely on bailouts to do any type of business.  Governments are depending on banks who are scooping up the free "funny" money to buy their worthless debt.  Who's going to pay all the nanny states' entitlements in a few years???

4.  When our own central bank (The Fed) leader says our recovery is frail and weak and extends near 0% interest rates for the foreseeable future, this flies right into the face of all the spin this gov't and the "yellow journalistic" media are spewing forth about any sort of "recovery".  So who in the world is going to buy anything and from who?  The entire world is limping along on printed money and I.O.U. notes that they keep trading back and forth each time there is more QE.

Mar 12, 2012 3:41PM
Leaders in congress, talk about an oxymoron.
Mar 12, 2012 4:20PM

DOD has been allowed to become another entitlement program.  we have more than enough equipment and facilities to tackle the world several times over.  if you ever have been working in the industry, you see first hand the waste is enormous!  slashing it would not only save us billions but force some economy on a section of the nation that has zero concern for the value of the dollar. 

Defense spending MUST not only be cut but slashed.  We cannot afford what we spend now on defense.
Mar 12, 2012 3:58PM

Defense spending MUST not only be cut but slashed.  We cannot afford what we spend now on defense.


We had a 1.6 trillion dollar deficit last year.  It was estimated at the start to be around 1.1 trillion.  This year's deficit is likely to be just as large, if not larger.   We probably will have an entire decade of trillion dollar deficits with government consuming 27% of GDP and growing.  We need to shrink governmnet back down  to 17-18% of GDP.


This will not end well...

Mar 12, 2012 3:30PM
Endeavor .. Thumbs up  But I would add that the antics of Congress that almost caused the US to default should not be forgotten, too.  The Power of the Purse String rest with Congress.  Now why haven't we got a meaningful JOBS bill and a balance budget to control our long term debt?  Prehaps we need to put the heat on Congress to get their job done for the American people before election day.
Mar 12, 2012 1:57PM

Still much negative econmic news both in Europe, Asia and here in USA.  China's growth has slowed and will continue to,  Europe still has an unresolved debt crisis and are in a recession a recession, Greece will default regardless of getting a bunch of money, other European countries like Spain, Portugal etc. all are ready to default.  Here in USA, housing continues to go down, minimal job growth and contracting wages, unemployment still an issue regardless of the made up 8.3% number.  Gas prices continue to rise with no relief in sight heading into summer.  Inflation continues to go up. 

There is a lot more negative economic news than there is positive news and that's the why is the market still going up?  Manipulation pure and simple.

Mar 12, 2012 2:35PM
The stock market always finds a way to climb the wall of worry. The more folks worry about the market being fair or controlled by speculators or whatever it will continue to climb.  Once everyone is settled and thinks it will never go down watch out!  We see inflation rising every day.  The market is now reflecting that increase.  When inflation gets to a certain acceptance level then bonds will follow because in order to hold inflation in check interest rates will need to rise.  None of this is new, just folks have to be on their toes to recognize when it is happening.  Don't let the pack teach you to follow, use your own knowledge to stay ahead of them.
Mar 12, 2012 1:49PM
china economy will slow some more . when it continues to produce junk and export them to USA and other countries  ..  someday consumers will all wake up and stop buying majority of the crappy stuff which made in china   !!!!!!!!
Mar 12, 2012 4:06PM

I could care less about "John Carter" being a flop when we have 20 million unemployed people. How about spending $250 million in creating jobs? Your long term investment would reap a better fiscal reward. Disneyland is over-rated too...


Mar 12, 2012 3:01PM



Mar 12, 2012 3:55PM

So Greece Defaults and all is well? 


When do US bond holders get their haircut, or do you believe you will be paid back in anything other than nearly worthless dollars?


Obama and Bernache should both be impeached for debasing the currency  without congressional action.  Clearly the FED is incompetent, as are most governmental bodies...

Mar 12, 2012 3:58PM

lets see 4.00 a gallon of gas in America, oil trading at a all time high. and today's stock market issue is china slowing down this is just a bunch of b.s. this guy writes everyday. let me save you some time this week, tomorrow it will be europe the next day will be china again and the next day jobs reports ect. ect...

Mar 12, 2012 3:33PM

McCain said:

"No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab]."

Mar 12, 2012 4:06PM

Hmmm...   Obama saved GM by defaulting on GM's debt and giving control of the company to Union's.    Certainly the Unions were helped.  The poor pension plans and holders of GM bonds however were screwed.   We should require the UAW to buy all GM bonds.   Let  them hold the paper and then make it worthless...  See if they like it...


No GM should have been allowed to go bust.  We can do our part to help see that this wrong is righted...  Buy no GM products period.  Buy Ford's or foreign caars made in the USA with higher made in the USA content (Since GM has the lowest content made here that should not be hard to do).


Better yet FIRE as many Donkeys as possible in November, starting with the moron '57 States'...

Mar 12, 2012 4:08PM



Roger that on cutting back on defense spending.


Unions also participated in pricing our labor out of world markets and are a factor in where we find ourselves right now.


Mar 12, 2012 1:52PM
someday consumers will all wake up and stop buying majority of the crappy stuff which made in china   !!!!!!!!
Perhaps, rather than teaching "values", we should teach Value in our schools.
Mar 12, 2012 4:33PM
Endeavor .. how about rural America keep all the food, raw materials and oil .. and turn out the lights in town? Wink
ROFL -- these guys are nuts the reason people are pulling more money out of the market instead of putting money into the market is simple. 

RETIRED BABY BOOMERS are taking more Money out of the stock market than non retired workers are putting in added to the fact that current workers are paid less than they use to be due to global competition and are able to put less into the stock market. 
It has nothing to do with people afraid of the market. 

But everyday investors refuse to jump in. They pulled $19 billion from funds that invest in U.S. stocks in December, according to the Investment Company Institute, and $2 billion more in January.

"In the old days, if there was a market rally, people would call and ask to put more money in. They felt they were missing the party," says Deborah DeMatteo, an independent wealth manager at 10-15 Associates in Goshen, N.Y.

This time, investors seem more than happy to miss the party.

"Now, people call and ask, 'When is it going back down?'" DeMatteo says. "There's a sense of doom."

What are they thinking? It's a question fit for a shrink.

Market psychology is still psychology, which is why Wall Street banks and investment firms pay people like Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist with a medical degree from the University of Texas, to help make sense of it.

Mar 12, 2012 3:18PM
MRLUKI .. you might want to read the World Bank report China 2030.  Japan is also going to move upward as they recover from last year's earthquake and tsunami.  I agree with you that American payrolls have declined and unemployment numbers are still to high .. but that is more to do with the dysfunctional Congress and timid corporate investment strategies.
Mar 12, 2012 3:30PM

"Millions of voters are grappling with unemployment, underemployment and deteriorating jobs.

Marked by declining earnings and benefits, job quality has been eroding for years, spanning Democratic and Republican administrations. And the future looks rough for many, experts say"


Now that is the truth contrary to what some "hyped up" job report or what the "experts" would like you to believe.

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[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market finished an upbeat week on a mixed note. The S&P 500 shed less than a point, ending the week higher by 1.3%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (+0.1%) cemented a 1.7% advance for the week. High-beta names underperformed, which weighed on the Nasdaq Composite (-0.3%) and the Russell 2000 (-1.3%).

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