The early morning release of unexpectedly positive economic data on Wednesday put strong pressure on equities throughout the trading session as good housing and jobs news exacerbated the new round of taper-talk that has gripped Wall Street this week.
Stocks rallied later in the day to pare back losses, however, after the Federal Reserve released the results of its Beige Book Survey indicating once again that a reduction of stimulus spending was not likely before the end of the year.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was 0.13 percent off to 1,792.81 points, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.16 percent for a close of 15,889.77 points, and the NASDAQ eked its way into the positive, adding a slight 0.02 percent to hang on above 4,000 to 4,038 points.
Economic data took several forms, with the Department of Commerce indicating that the US trade deficitshrunk in October, while new home sales for the same period were up about 25 percent.
On the Dow, consumer goods and services stocks continued to decline in the face of what will likely be an underwhelming holiday shopping season. Discount retailer Wal-Mart (WMT) led the way down with a loss of over 1 percent, with McDonald’s (MCD) , Procter & Gamble (PG) , and Nike (NKE) all ending the day lower as well.
This was also true on the S&P 500, where the beleaguered J.C Penney (JCP) was off almost 5 percent. Meanwhile, the days best performer on the benchmark index was fertilizer company CF Industries Holdings (CF) , who ended the day up over 10 percent after a number of announcements and filings indicating, among other things, that the company was considering another dividend increase. Yahoo! (YHOO) was in tow on a gain of 4.3 percent.
Even with a 1.12 percent increase in the price of crude futures for January delivery, oil companies were the S&P’s hardest hit, with losses of over 3 percent for each of Baker Hughes (BHI) , Valero Energy (VLO) , Marathon Petroleum (MPC) , and Kinder Morgan (KMI) . Earlier in the day, the ministers of OPEC held their production-target meeting in Vienna, Austria, under much pressure to respond in some way to the ramping up of the US shale boom.
On the NASDAQ, Facebook (FB) advanced 4 percent on the heaviest trading of the day. With the social media giant’s stock having more than doubled over the past 6 months, is it time to start asking whether social media stocks will be the newest bubble?
Other techs that fared well throughout the day included Microsoft (MSFT) , Plug Power Inc. (PLUG) , and Nuance Communications (NUAN) .
Otherwise, the NASDAQ had some interesting healthcare stories to tell, with medical supply company Oculus Innovative Solutions (OCLS) up over 100 percent after news that it had received FDA clearance for a gel-based scar treatment.