Zacks Take on the Stock Market Today - March 23, 2011

Mar 23, 2011, 11:54 ET from Zacks Investment Research, Inc.

CHICAGO, March, 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Stock Market Today report brought to you by Zacks Investment Research.  The three-day rally of the stock markets was halted on Tuesday with investors adopting a cautious stance as ensuing unrest in the Middle East pushed crude oil prices higher. Also, the lack of any new information on the crisis in Japan provided little strength to the indices to extend their winning streak.

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Last week, stock markets were in the red, but had started moving up since Thursday, reducing the weekly losses. However, it had been predicted that investors were worried about volatility in the stock markets and were not ready to bet big. On the second day of this week these fears have come true to a certain extent and the CBOE Volatility Index shot up 1.9% to 20.21, close to pre-Japan crisis levels. On the New York Stock Exchange, AMEX and Nasdaq volumes touched their lowest point for the year, with a mere 6.33 billion shares being traded. This was way below the daily average volume of 8.8 billion shares. Among the benchmarks, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) shed 0.2%, Standard & Poor 500 dropped 0.4% and Nasdaq lost 0.3% to end the day at 12,018.63, 1,293.77 and 2,683.87, respectively. Advancers outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by a 4:3 ratio.

The movement in the stock markets on Tuesday can only be considered marginal, as throughout March indices have swung to and fro and by bigger margins. This marginal movement is attributable to the limited scale of news that could significantly affect the markets. On the lackluster day of events, only the old waves of unrest in the Middle East and the crisis in Japan affected the markets modestly.

Crude oil prices surged higher yet again and settled at $104.97 per barrel. During the day, oil had topped $105 per barrel. The situation in Libya has remained tense over the month, providing little relief to investors or oil traders. Crude oil prices have been pushed higher, leading to fears of adverse consequences on consumer spending. Higher crude oil prices once again affected stock markets negatively. Meanwhile, air-strikes by international coalition forces continued against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan leader and his loyalists remained firm on continuing their fight and this stance spiked further concerns over crude oil supply.

A day after comments that the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan was stabilizing bolstered investor sentiment, no new developments were reported regarding the situation. This made investors cautious and they stayed away from further bets. Experts opine that though the stock markets have had a significant rally off the lows, concerns over the Japan crisis and Libya remain which may stop the investors from pushing the S&P 500 through the 1,300 barrier.

Comments from an analyst that suggested the positives from the Japan crisis for the semiconductor industry brought little cheer as semiconductor stocks slipped lower. The analyst said the earthquake has ensured a halt in the supply-chain of semiconductor fabrication plants in Japan and this development could benefit certainUS suppliers. However, shares like Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: MU), SanDisk Corp. (NASDAQ: SNDK), OmniVision Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ: OVTI) and Cypress Semiconductor Corporation (NASDAQ: CY) lost 0.1%, 1.5%, 0.6%, and 1.1%, respectively.

Among stocks in focus, Walgreen Co. (NYSE: WAG) was the biggest laggard in the S&P 500 and lost 6.6% to close at $39.21. The company's profit margin fell short of investor's expectations, affecting the stock price. Carnival Corporation (NYSE: CCL) failed to match this quarter's earnings forecast to expectations and the stock had to dip 4.5%. The gainers for the day included Dollar General Corporation (NYSE: DG), BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. (NYSE: BJ), Molycorp, Inc. (NYS:MCP) and Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) and they gained 1.5%, 5.0%, 17.7% and 4.0%, respectively.

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