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Stocks Turning In Lackluster Performance In Early Trading - U.S. Commentary

With traders expressing uncertainty about the near-term outlook for the markets, stocks are turning in a lackluster performance in early trading on Friday. The major averages are lingering near the unchanged line after ending the previous session in positive territory.

The major averages are currently posting modest losses, with the Nasdaq only just below the unchanged line. While the Nasdaq is down 0.85 points or less than a tenth of a percent, the Dow is down 26.87 points or 0.2 percent at 12,953.43 and the S&P 500 is down 2.72 points or 0.2 percent at 1,371.37.

The choppy trading on Wall Street comes amid a lack of major U.S. economic news and a relatively light day on the corporate news front.

Traders seem reluctant to make any significant moves amid lingering questions about whether the global economic outlook supports the strong move to the upside shown by stocks in recent months.

In 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.

While most of the major sectors are showing only modest moves, gold stocks have come under pressure amid a decrease by the price of the precious metal. With gold for April delivery falling $13.60 to $1,708.60 an ounce, the NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index is down by 1.7 percent.

Trucking and oil stocks are also seeing some weakness in early trading, while strength is visible among airline and computer hardware stocks.

Among individual stocks, Big Lots (BIG) is down by 2.8 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 of 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) is up by 0.2 percent 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 last year. The results were ahead of estimates.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved to the upside 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 have turned mixed on the day. While the French CAC 40 Index has edged up by 0.1 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the German DAX Index are down by 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries are moving higher after coming under pressure in the two previous sessions. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is down by 3.9 basis points at 1.998 percent.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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