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Stocks Give Back Ground Following Recent Strength


Stocks moved mostly lower over the course of the trading day on Friday, although selling pressure was relatively subdued. A lack of major economic news and a relatively light day on the corporate news front contributed to choppy trading for most of the session.

The major averages all closed in the red, although the Dow was only just below the unchanged line. The Dow edged down 2.73 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 12,977.57, while the Nasdaq fell 12.78 points or 0.4 percent to 2,976.19 and the S&P 500 dropped 4.46 points or 0.3 percent to 1,369.63.

The Dow also slipped by less than a tenth of a percent for the week, while the Nasdaq rose by 0.4 percent and the S&P 500 advanced by 0.3 percent.

The weakness that emerged on Wall Street was partly due to profit taking, with traders cashing in on the recent strength in the markets amid uncertainty about the near-term outlook. Resource stocks helped to lead the way lower amid a pullback by commodities prices.

Lingering uncertainty about the global economic outlook also weighed on the markets, with traders still worried about the impact of a recession in Europe.

In the latest news out of Europe, leaders of twenty-five of the twenty-seven European Union nations signed a new fiscal compact to enforce tougher budget discipline. The U.K. and the Czech Republic have refused to sign the deal.

The German-inspired agreement, which is due to take effect on January 1, 2013, includes a requirement for national budgets to be in balance or surplus. Moreover, the balanced budget rule must be incorporated into the member states' national legal systems.

Among individual stocks, Big Lots (BIG) fell by 4 percent after reporting fourth quarter earnings of $1.75 per share on sales of $1.67 billion. Analysts had expected the retailer to report earnings of $1.73 per share on sales $1.66 billion.

Looking ahead, Big Lots forecast earnings of $0.75 to $0.81 per share for the first quarter and $3.40 to $3.50 per share for 2012. Meanwhile, analysts estimate earnings of $0.81 per share for the first quarter and $3.46 per share for the year.

Foot Locker (FL) also closed lower after reporting fourth quarter adjusted earnings of $0.55 per share compared to $0.39 per share last year. Sales rose to $1.5 billion from $1.39 billion. The results were ahead of estimates.

Meanwhile, shares of Yelp (YELP) jumped by 63.9 percent in their first day of trading after the consumer review website priced its IPO at $15 per share.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved higher on Friday following the strength seen on Wall Street overnight. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index rose by 0.7 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index ended the day up by 0.8 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned in a mixed performance on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index edged up by less than a tenth of a percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the German DAX Index both fell by 0.3 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries showed a strong move back to the upside after coming under pressure in the two previous sessions. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, fell by 5.1 basis points to 1.986 percent.

Gold stocks turned in some of the market's worst performances on the day, dragging the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index down by 2 percent.

The weakness in the sector gold sector came amid a notable decrease by the price of the precious metal, with gold for April delivery falling $12.40 to $1,709.80 an ounce.

Significant weakness was also visible among natural gas stocks, which moved lower despite an increase by the price of natural gas. Reflecting the weakness in the sector, the NYSE Arca Natural Gas Index fell by 1.9 percent.

Health insurance stocks also came under considerable selling pressure, resulting in a 1.6 percent drop by the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor Index. Centene (CNC) helped to lead the sector lower, ending the day down by 5 percent.

Most of the other major sectors also moved to the downside on the day, with housing, healthcare provider, and oil service stocks posting notable losses.

U.S. economic data is likely to be in focus next week, with traders likely to keep a particularly close eye on next Friday's monthly employment report from the Labor Department.

Ahead of the monthly jobs report, data on factory orders, service sector activity, labor productivity and private sector employment is likely to attract attention.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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