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Stocks Close Modestly Lower Following Late-Day Weakness - U.S. Commentary

3/27/2012 4:26 PM ET

After showing a lack of direction throughout much of the session, stocks moved to the downside going into the close of trading on Tuesday, ending the day mostly lower.

The major averages all ended the day in the red but posted only modest losses. The Dow slipped 43.90 points or 0.3 percent to 13,197.73, the Nasdaq edged down 2.22 points or 0.1 percent to 3,120.35 and the S&P 500 dipped 3.99 points or 0.3 percent to 1,412.52.

Profit taking may have contributed to the late-day weakness on Wall Street, with some traders cashing in on the recent strength in the markets.

The losses posted by the major averages on the day came after they ended the previous session at or near multi-year closing highs.

Disappointing economic data may also have weighed on the markets, as a report from the Conference Board showed an unexpected drop in consumer confidence in the month of March.

The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index fell to 70.2 in March from an upwardly revised 71.6 in February. Economists had expected the index to edge up to 70.9 from the 70.8 originally reported for the previous month.

The unexpected pullback by the consumer confidence index came after it reached its highest level since coming in at 72.0 in February of 2011 in the previous month.

A separate report from Standard & Poor's showed a continued drop in U.S. home prices in the month of January, with prices falling in line with economist estimates.

The report showed that the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index fell by an annual rate of 3.8 percent in January compared to a 4.1 percent year-over-year drop in December.

Despite the pull back by the broader markets, shares of Lennar (LEN) rose by 4.7 percent after the homebuilder reported first quarter earnings that fell year-over-year but came in above analyst estimates. The company also reported a 33 percent increase in new orders.

ISTA Pharma (ISTA) also moved higher on the day after announcing an agreement to be acquired by Bausch + Lomb for $9.10 per share in cash or a total of about $500 million.

Meanwhile, for-profit education company Apollo Group (APOL) fell by 8.5 percent despite reporting better than expected second quarter results and reaffirming its full-year guidance.

Sector News

Oil service stocks came under considerable selling pressure on the day, dragging the Philadelphia Oil Service Index down by 2.2 percent. With the loss, the index ended the session at its lowest closing level in two months.

Nabors Industries (NBR) and Weatherford International (WFT) turned in two of the worst performances in the oil service sector, which came under pressure despite a modest increase by the price of crude oil.

Significant weakness also emerged among brokerage stocks, as reflected by the 1.4 percent loss posted by the NYSE Arca Broker/Dealer Index. The loss by the index came after it ended the previous session at an eight-month closing high.

Gold, banking, and healthcare provider stocks also saw notable weakness, contributing to the downward move shown by the broader markets.

Meanwhile, housing stocks held on to strong gains, resulting in a 1.4 percent advance by the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index. Lennar helped to lead the sector higher, while Ryland Group (RYL) and Standard Pacific (SPF) also posted strong gains.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved notably higher on Tuesday, benefiting from the overnight rally on Wall Street. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index surged up by 2.4 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index jumped by 1.8 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned lower over the course of the trading day. While the German DAX Index closed just below the unchanged line, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index fell by 0.6 percent and the French CAC 40 Index dropped by 0.9 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries showed a strong move to the upside, climbing further off their recent lows. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, fell by 5.7 basis points to 2.187 percent.

Looking Ahead

Trading on Wednesday could be impacted by the release of the Commerce Department's report on durable goods orders in the month of February. Economists expect orders to increase by 2.9 percent in February following a 3.7 percent drop in January.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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