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Stocks Climb Off Worst Levels But Remain Modestly Lower - U.S. Commentary

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After coming under pressure early in the session, stocks have regained ground over the course of the trading day on Friday. The major averages have climbed well off their worst levels of the day but remain in negative territory.

Currently, the major averages are posting modest losses. The Dow is down 61.32 points or 0.3 percent at 23,940.60, the Nasdaq is down 26.27 points or 0.4 percent at 6,959.80 and the S&P 500 is down 5.24 points or 0.2 percent at 2,591.40.

The initial weakness on Wall Street was partly due to profit taking, with traders cashing in on the gains seen over the five-session winning streak.

Concerns about the ongoing government shutdown and skepticism about a potential trade deal between the U.S. and China also weighed on the markets.

Selling pressure remained somewhat subdued, however, with recent upward momentum helping to limit the downside for the markets.

Traders seem worried about missing out on further upside if the markets recover from the early pullback as they did in the previous session.

On the economic front, the Labor Department released a report showing a slight drop in consumer prices in the month of December.

The Labor Department said its consumer price index slipped by 0.1 percent in December after coming in unchanged in November. The slight drop in consumer prices matched economist estimates.

Energy prices showed another significant decrease during the month, plunging by 3.5 percent in December following a 2.2 percent slump in the previous month.

A steep drop in gasoline prices led the way lower, with gas prices plummeting by 7.5 percent in December after tumbling by 4.2 percent in November.

On the other hand, the report said food prices climbed by 0.4 percent in December, the largest increase since May of 2014. Prices for fruits and vegetables surged higher.

Excluding food and energy prices, the core consumer price index rose by 0.2 percent in December, matching the increases seen in the two previous months as well as expectations.

Higher prices for shelter, recreation, medical care, and household furnishings and operations more than offset lower prices for airline fares, used cars and trucks, and motor vehicle insurance.

The report said the annual rate of consume price growth slowed to 1.9 percent in December from 2.2 percent in November, while the annual rate of core consumer price growth was unchanged at 2.2 percent.

Sector News

Oil service stocks have climbed off their worst levels of the session continue to see considerable weakness in mid-day trading.

After ending the previous session at its best closing level in a month, the Philadelphia Oil Service Index is down by 2.1 percent.

The weakness in the sector comes as the price of crude oil for February delivery is sliding $0.80 to $51.79 a barrel after rising to a five-week high on Thursday.

Chemical, software, and utilities stocks also continue to see some weakness on the day, while substantial strength has emerged among tobacco stocks.

Reflecting the strength in the tobacco sector, the NYSE Arca Tobacco Index has surged up by 2.7 percent to its best intraday level in almost a month.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher during trading on Friday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index jumped by 1 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index climbed by 0.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets moved to the downside on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index fell by 0.5 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the German DAX Index dropped by 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries have pulled back off their best levels but remain in positive territory. As a result, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is down by 3.2 basis points at 2.699 percent.

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