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Stocks Showing A Lack Of Direction In Early Trading - U.S. Commentary

With traders largely staying on the sidelines, stocks are turning in a lackluster performance in early trading on Wednesday. The major averages are lingering near the unchanged line after ending the previous session modestly lower.

The major averages are currently turning in a mixed performance, although they are all nearly flat. While the Nasdaq is up 3.50 points or 0.1 percent at 3,123.85, the Dow is down 8.17 points or 0.1 percent at 13,189.56 and the S&P 500 is down 1.83 points or 0.1 percent at 1,410.69.

The choppy trading on Wall Street comes as traders express some uncertainty about the near-term outlook for the markets following the strong upward move seen over the past several months.

A number of analysts have called for a correction by the markets, but traders seem reluctant to cash in on the recent gains and miss out on any further upside.

Traders are also digesting a report from the Commerce Department showing that U.S. durable goods orders rebounded in February but rose by somewhat less than anticipated.

The report showed that durable goods orders rose by 2.2 percent in February following a revised 3.6 percent decrease in January. Economists had expected orders to increase by 2.9 percent compared to the 3.7 percent drop that had been reported for the previous month.

Excluding a 3.9 percent increase in orders for transportation equipment, durable goods orders increased by a more modest 1.6 percent in February compared to a 3.0 percent decrease in January. The increase in ex-transportation orders came in slightly above economist estimates for a 1.5 percent increase.

While most of the major sectors are showing only modest moves, steel stocks have come under pressure in early trading. Reflecting the weakness in the steel sector, the NYSE Arca Steel Index is down by 1.5 percent, stuck in a recent trading range.

Gold, natural gas, and railroad stocks are also seeing moderate weakness, while biotechnology stocks have moved to the upside. The NYSE Arca Biotechnology Index is up by 3.1 percent, although the gain is largely due to a 42 percent jump by shares of Amylin Pharmaceuticals (AMLN).

The standout gain by Amylin comes after Bloomberg reported that the biopharmaceutical company rejected a $3.5 billion unsolicited takeover bid from Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) earlier this year.

Airline stocks are also seeing notable strength in early trading, resulting in a 1 percent gain by the NYSE Arca Airline Index. US Airways (LCC) and United Continental (UAL) are posting strong gains.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly lower during trading on Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell by 0.7 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, while China's Shanghai Composite Index tumbled by 2.7 percent.

The major European markets have also moved to the downside on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index is down by 0.3 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is down by 0.4 percent and the German DAX Index is down by 0.5 percent.

In the bond market, treasuries are seeing modest weakness but have climbed well off their worst levels. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is up by 1.1 basis points at 2.198 percent after reaching a high of 2.225 percent.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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