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4:15 PM, Dec 17, 2010 --

  • DJIA down 7.34 (-0.06%) to 11,491.91
  • S&P 500 up 1.04 (+0.08%) to 1,243.91
  • Nasdaq up 5.66 (+0.21%) to 2,642.97


GLOBAL SENTIMENT

  • Hang Seng up 0.2%
  • Nikkei down 0.07%
  • FTSE down 0.16%


UPSIDE MOVERS

(+) ORCL continues evening gain after earnings, guidance beat.

(+) TTWO continues evening gain after Q4 beat.

(+) RIMM continues evening gain after beat.

(+) ICO reportedly gets interest from Massey Energy.

(+) YRCW court says ABF Freight can not sue company.

(+) MI sold to BMO Financial.

DOWNSIDE MOVERS


(-) AIB, IRE down as Moody's cuts Ireland debt rating.

(-) AZN says Brilanta study to be delayed.

MARKET DIRECTION

Better-than-expected earnings results from Oracle (ORCL) and Research in Motion (RIMM) buoyed U.S. markets but gains were tempered by a Moody's downgrade of Ireland's debt. European debt issues were an overhang for much of the day as traders worry that despite aid packages cobbled together for the likes of Ireland and Greece, those economies and others in Europe remain shaky. U.S. traders got some added good news from the Conference Board as the index of leading indicators gained 1.1% in November, up from a 0.4% rise in October and yet another sign the U.S. economy is on the mend.

Moody's downgraded Ireland's government-bond rating by five notches and said the country had a weak economic outlook.

U.S. November leading economic indicators rose 1.1%, the biggest gain since March, but only matching Street views. Nine of the 10 component indicators included in the index rose in November, with the largest positive contribution coming from the index of supplier deliveries. Building permits were the only negative contributor.

Also, lawmakers approved a two-year across-the-board extension of Bush-era tax cuts just before midnight Thursday by a vote of 277-148. The bill, already passed by the Senate, now goes to President Barack Obama for signature. The bill includes a 2% rollback of Social Security payroll taxes, extends unemployment insurance for 13 months, and brings back the estate tax at 35% for two years on estates of more than $5 million. Wall Street has given mixed reviews to the plan, believing it may help stimulate a weak economic recovery but at the cost of even deeper deficit burdens.

Looking forward to the a holiday-shortened trading week, there are several names on the earnings docket that should see strong trading interest. On Monday, Adobe (ADBE), Darden's Restaurants (DRI), Jabil (JBL) and Paychex (PAYX) report financials. Hovnanian (HOV), Nike (NKE) and Red Hat (RHT) are due with financials on Tuesday, followed by Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) and Micron Technology (MU) on Wednesday. No significant earnings reports are due on Thursday, and U.S. markets are closed Friday in observance of Christmas Day.

On the economic front, MBA mortgage applications; GDP; existing home sales; FHFA home price index; and crude inventories are slated for release on Wednesday. On Thursday, traders will get a look at personal income/spending; PCE prices; durable orders; initial claims; University of Michigan sentiment; and new home sales data.

In Friday's company news:

Shares of InterMune (ITMN) soared after the company said that the European Medicines Agency "adopted a positive opinion" to allow the marketing of its lung drug Esbriet. The drug is being developed for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. This is a a rare, fatal condition where lungs suffer scarring due to unknown causes.

Shares of Google (GOOG) saw modest downside pressure as the the Internet search giant faces antitrust complaints in the European Union from publishers who say that the company discriminates against their sites, Bloomberg reported. The EU took over part of a complaint that was originally filed with Germany's antitrust agency in January. The EU is looking into whether Google discriminated against competing services in its search results.

Hewlett Packard Co. (HPQ) shares were near flat even after the computer maker said it faces a wider federal investigation into alleged payment of kickbacks to sell its products overseas. The joint U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission probe is now looking into bribery allegations in Austria, Serbia, the Netherlands and the Commonwealth of Independent States, according to a regulatory filing by the company. HP is already under investigation in Russia and Germany for alleged bribes dating back as far as 10 years ago.

ADRs of AstraZeneca (AZN) were down in the regular session after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked for additional analysis of data from a study of Brilinta. Analysts said the demand for extra analysis is likely to delay final approval of the drug by six to twelve months.

Oracle (ORCL) was a solid gainer in regular session trading after posting strong results and guidance late Thursday.

Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and Bank of Ireland (IRE) were lower after Moody's downgraded Ireland's credit rating by five notches. Moody's cut Ireland's rating to Baa1 with a negative outlook from Aa2 and warned further downgrades could follow if Dublin was unable to stabilize its debt situation.

Commodities finished mostly higher with both crude oil and gold futures ending in the gainers column.

Crude oil for January delivery finished up $0.32, or 0.34%, to $88.02 a barrel. In other energy futures, heating oil was down 0.07% to $2.47 a gallon while natural gas rose 0.47%, to $4.06 per million British thermal units.

Gold futures logged gains during the day amid fresh worries over the U.S. budget deficit, MarketWatch reported.

Gold for February delivery finished up 0.6% to $1,379.20 an ounce. In other metal futures, silver rose 1.47% to $29.20 a troy ounce while copper was up 1.29% to $4.16 a pound.

Source: Stocks, Led by Tech, See Slim Gains, But Europe Worries Weigh