Stocks teeter after US data

New York manufacturing activity contracts, but consumer prices remain unchanged, industrial output increases and builders' confidence improves. Staples shares skid after disappointing results. Deere is also down after missing estimates.

By Melly Alazraki Aug 15, 2012 9:18AM
Updated at 12:17 p.m. ET

Stocks traded in a narrow range Wednesday, after U.S. consumer prices remained unchanged and New York-area manufacturing activity dropped sharply in July.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) was down 2 points at 13,170. The S&P 500 ($INX) was up 1 point at 1,405. The Nasdaq Composite ($COMPX) was up 12 points at 3,029.

Investors also digested earnings from Target (TGT), Deere (DE) and Staples (SPLS). Meanwhile, JDSU (JDSU), Starbucks (SBUX) and Facebook (FB) helped support the Nasdaq.

On Tuesday, U.S. stocks finished almost flat after being up most of the session. Trading volumes have remained low in this seasonally slow period, and markets haven't exhibited much volatility. For now, investors are also waiting to see whether the Federal Reserve and other central banks will step in with further easing and stimulus measures. A conference at the end of the month at Kansas City Federal Reserve could provide more information.

But as expectations for any central bank action waned, European markets were mostly lower Wednesday as Asian markets ended the day in the red.
US economic data
U.S. consumer prices remained unchanged in July as lower energy prices offset gains in food and other items. Core CPI, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.1%. Economists had expected an increase of 0.2% for both the overall and core price gauges, according to MarketWatch. The muted inflation could support Fed easing.

The Empire State manufacturing index dropped sharply to negative 5.9 in August, the first time in nine months that activity has contracted, and after reaching 17.1 in May. The decrease was larger than expected. Economists had forecast a small decline to 6.0 in August, MarketWatch reports.

Industrial production in the U.S. increased 0.6% in July, the most in three months. The growth was propelled by a pickup in motor vehicle output and a rebound in utility use.

The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index rose 2 points in August as builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes climbed to the highest level in more than five years on expectations the recovery in housing can continue. Several housing stocks, such as Toll Brothers (TOL), received a boost from the data.

Meanwhile, applications for U.S. home mortgages tumbled 4.5% last week, with demand for new loans -- a leading indicator of homes sales -- down 2% for the fifth week in a row as interest rates held steady, the Mortgage Bankers Association said on Wednesday.

Stocks to watch
Staples (SPLS) shares sank after the office supply chain reported lower-than-expected quarterly results on weak demand. Sales fell 5.5% to $5.50 billion, and net income fell 32% to $120 million, or 18 cents a share, missing expectations for $5.72 billion and 25 cents a share. Staples also cut its profit and sales forecasts for the year.

Deer & Co. (DE) tumbled after the farm-machinery maker reported that fiscal-third-quarter earnings jumped 11% to $788 million, or $1.98 a share, as revenue grew by 15% to $9.59 billion. The results, however, still missed expectations for earnings of $2.31 a share on net equipment revenue of $9.5 billion. The company also cut its view for the year.

Target (TGT) shares rose after the second-largest U.S. discount retailer posted second-quarter profit of $704 million, or $1.06 a share, that topped analysts' estimates as sales gained 3.3% to $16.8 billion. Analysts projected earnings of $1.01 per share. The retailer plans to boost sales growth by opening stores in Canada next year.

Cisco Systems (CSCO) will report fiscal-fourth-quarter results after the close Wednesday. Analysts expect the networking company to report a profit of 45 cents a share, on revenue of $11.62 billion, according to a consensus survey by FactSet.

Starbucks (SBUX) is climbing after Credit Suisse added the coffee retailer to its U.S. Focus List, saying it has one of the largest growth opportunities in the consumer sector. In addition, high growth in emerging markets and margin increases in Europe will also boost the retailer, which has reached a compelling entry point, Credit Suisse said.

  • More analyst call here

Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) shares jumped despite reporting a mediocre quarter and saying sales would remain weak in the crucial back-to-school and holiday seasons. The teen retailer also said it was raising its share buyback authorization by 10 million shares, to 22.9 million -- just over a quarter of its outstanding shares.


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