Stocks were up into the midday Wednesday, as a decent flow of U.S. economic data and a few corporate reports outweighed ongoing European-based anxiety. Enjoy it while you can, because I expect the tide to turn as we approach the EU summit result Friday. Much emphasis is being placed on the importance of the event by relevant parties in Italy and Spain and the financial markets, as Germany seems to hold course. The SPDR S&P 500 (NYSEARCA:SPY) was up 0.9% around noon ET, but I expect we'll head lower ahead of Friday.
Durable goods orders were reported for the month of May this morning. The data was better than miserable but less than robust, and many are focusing today on the slowing of China and its impending impact on activity. Durables orders recovered by 1.1% after losing 0.2% (revised) in April. Economists had been looking for a smaller 0.4% increase, based on Bloomberg's survey. Excluding high-ticket transportation items, durables orders rose 0.4% against last month's reported decline of 0.6%. Economists had been looking for a gain of 0.8% here, though. Boeing (NYSE:BA) benefited from twice as many orders in May (eight) vs. April. Non-defense capital goods orders, excluding aircraft, which is closely followed as a measure of economic health, gained 1.6% in May against an April decline of 1.4%. Unfortunately for long traders, the positive leaning data will likely be overwhelmed by Europe and China concerns before long.
Mortgage activity fell off in the latest reported week. A dramatic swing in refinance activity lower was likely the result of the pulling forward of activity into the prior week. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey showed its Market Composite Index fell 7.1% in the week ending June 22, 2012. Mortgage rates were mixed through the week, with average effective rate increases in 30-year fixed rate jumbo loan contracts and 5/1 ARMS contracts offset by effective rate decreases in 30-year fixed rate conforming loan contracts, FHA sponsored 30-year fixed rate mortgages, and 15-year fixed rate mortgages. The Refinance Index fell 8% week to week, as the prior week's initiation of lower premiums for FHA sponsored loan refinancing drew forward pending business. The Purchase Index, measuring applications for mortgages tied to the purchase of homes, decreased 1% as it normalized against the prior week's catalyst. Major mortgage lenders shares including Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) were under pressure this week, partly on the Moody's downgrade of late last week and on heightened concern about Europe.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported its Pending Home Sales Index increased 5.9% in May. The gain came off a 5.5% decline in April, but the index was at its highest level in two years, at a mark of 101.1. Economists had been looking for the measure of new contract signings to increase just 1.2%. It's a mild positive for stocks, but, in my view, not enough to overcome the global weight against the market for long. The nation's third largest homebuilder by revenues, Lennar (NYSE:LEN), reported Street-beating operating earnings and its shares were up 5% as a result. The company reported strong backlog and order growth, driving the gain.
The EIA's Petroleum Status Report covering the week ending June 22 showed crude oil inventory decreased slightly by 0.1 million barrels but remained above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventory increased by 2.1 million barrels, but remain in the lower limit of the average range for this time of year. Crude oil futures were higher on the day while the nearest term Gasoline RBOB futures were still off 1.1% just after the report was published. The United States Oil ETF (NYSEARCA:USO) was up 0.6% on the news while the United States Gasoline ETF (NYSEARCA:UGA) was lower 0.7%.
The corporate wire has a slew of deal restricted analysts at the major Wall Street houses including Barclays (NYSE:BCS), Citigroup (NYSE:C), Credit Suisse, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch issuing their first research since the Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) IPO, with the average analysts' price target at approximately $37.71, with the reports still flowing. The above listed banks all rated Facebook with ratings equivalent to neutral positioning. BMO Capital Markets rated the stock "underperform," and set its price target at $25. The analysts of the three lead banks of the IPO underwriting, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) all rated Facebook a "buy" and set target prices at $38, $45, and $42, respectively. In my report published today, I discuss the overvaluation of Facebook and other social media firms based on spammer skewed member data.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.