Wall Street continues to struggle to find direction during early afternoon trading on Tuesday, with the major averages bouncing back and forth across the unchanged line after failing to sustain an initial downward move.
The choppy trading comes as investors mull over some mixed economic and corporate news and continue to express some unease regarding the swine flu outbreak.
On the economic front, the Conference Board released a report earlier in the day showing that its consumer confidence increased by much more than expected in April, reflecting a significant improvement in consumers' assessment of the short-term outlook.
The report showed that the consumer confidence index jumped to 39.2 in April from an upwardly revised 26.9 in March. Economists had expected the index to increase to 29.7 from the 26.0 originally reported for the previous month.
Separately, Standard and Poor's said U.S. home prices saw continued broad based declines in the month of February, although the annual rate of decline in prices did not set a new record for the first time in sixteen months.
The report showed that the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index fell at an annual rate of 18.6 percent in February, a modest deceleration from the 19.0 percent drop in prices that was reported for January.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that regulators are pushing Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) to raise more capital following early results of the government's stress test analysis, generating some concerns about the results of the tests.
The Journal said that the capital shortfall amounts to billions of dollars at Bank of America. The report specified that executives at both banks are objecting to the preliminary findings from the government's examination.
In other news, despite a relatively minor increase in the number of confirmed cases of swine flu, the World Health Organization has raised the level of its influenza pandemic alert to phase 4. At the same time, the WHO does not recommend that countries close borders or restrict travel.
The major averages have moved to the upside in recent trading, with the Nasdaq rising to a new high for the session. The Dow is currently up 24.85 at 8,049.85, the Nasdaq is up 9.35 at 1,688.76 and the S&P 500 is up 2.41 at 859.92.
With the continued fear surrounding the swine flu outbreak, healthcare-related stocks are posting strong gains. Significant strength is visible among health insurance stocks, as reflected by the 4.6 percent gain by the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor Index.
Within the health insurance sector, Coventry Health Care (CVH) is up 7.3 percent after reporting first quarter earnings that fell year-over-year but beat analyst estimates. With the advance, Coventry has reached its best intraday level in two months.
Healthcare provider and biotechnology stocks are also benefiting from the swine flu news, with the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Providers Index currently up 2.5 percent and the Amex Biotechnology up 2.3 percent.
While real estate, tobacco, and networking stocks are also seeing some strength, gold stocks continue to post steep losses. The Amex Gold Bugs Index is currently down 3.3 percent, as the price of the precious metal falls $16.50 to $891.70 an ounce.
Oil services stocks are experiencing the same fate as those in the gold sector, as the price of crude oil falls $0.73 to $49.41 a barrel. With the decline in the price of crude oil, the Philadelphia Oil Services Index is down 1.7 percent.
Steel, housing, and banking stocks are also notably lower. The Amex Steel Index is down 2 percent, while the Philadelphia Housing Index and the Kbw Bank Index are both down 1.5 percent.
Stocks In The News
Office Depot, Inc. (ODP) is posting a gain of 19 percent on the day after the company reported quarterly earnings that beat estimates on an adjusted basis. At its high for the session, Office Depot was at its best intraday level in over three months.
The office supplies retailer reported adjusted first quarter earnings of $0.10 compared to $0.29 per share in the same period a year ago. On average, analysts expected Office Depot to report a loss of $0.10 per share.
Additionally, Tellabs Inc. (TLAB) is up 6.8 percent after the telecom equipment maker reported adjusted first quarter earnings of $0.06 per share, compared to $0.08 per share in the year-ago quarter. Analysts had expected the company to earn $0.03 per share.
Meanwhile, Masco Corp. (MAS) is down 10.2 percent after the company reported a wider-than-expected loss for the first quarter and lowered its full-year guidance.
In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region closed considerably lower on Tuesday amid continued concerns about the economic impact of the swine flu outbreak. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index showed a notable decline, closing down 2.7 percent.
The major European averages also showed notable weakness, although they closed off their intraday lows. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the French CAC 40 Index both fell 1.7 percent, while the German DAX Index closed down 1.9 percent.
In the bond market, treasuries have seen some further downside in recent trading after turning lower over the course of the morning. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark 10-year note is currently up 3.6 basis points at 2.957 percent.
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