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Friday, 03 February 2012 | 00:00
DJ30 PointChange: -11.05 Level: 12705.41 NASDAQ PointChange: +11.41 Level: 2859.68 NQ100 PercentChange: +0.3 R2K PercentChange: +0.4 SP400 PercentChange: +0.1 SP500 PointChange: +1.45 Level: 1325.52 NASDAQ-Adv:1525 Dec: 990 NYSE-Adv:1695 Dec: 1289

[BRIEFING.COM] Stocks had a choppy, range bound session that concluded with mixed results for the major averages. The action precedes the highly anticipated payrolls report.

The major averages mustered varied gains in the early going, but they failed to sustain the move. That resulted in a downward drift, but only the Nasdaq was able to stay out of the red. The Nasdaq was also the only major average to settle with a solid gain. The Nasdaq's relative strength was partly owed to strong performances by the likes of (AMZN 181.72, +2.26), which rebounded from its prior session slide, and Qualcomm (QCOM 60.73, +1.17), which complemented a better-than-expected earnings report with strong guidance.

Although not a Nasdaq constituent, tech-related global payments company MasterCard (MA 381.57, +23.95) was a top performer today. The stock rallied on the back of an upside earnings surprise. Collectively, tech stocks scored a gain of just 0.3% today.

Social network outfit Facebook was in focus following the company's filing for an initial public offering. Most reports suggest the company could be valued up to $100 billion, which would more than quadruple the $23 billion valuation that Google (GOOG 585.11, +4.28) garnered in its IPO.

A handful of retailers had strong results, even though only half of the 20 retailers covered today by analysts posted same-store sales that exceeded expectations. Gap (GPS 21.52, +2.07), Target (TGT 52.00, +0.58), and Costco (COST 85.51, +2.29) were among those with more impressive results, while Macy's (M 35.23, +1.24) and Nordstrom (JWN 49.11, -0.41) were among those that disappointed.

Financials had been a source of leadership in late morning trade, but the sector's gains were petered out and it was left to drift sideways into the close. Still, it settled with a 0.5% gain, which means that it outperformed the broad market for the third straight session.

Health care stocks lagged all session and settled with a 0.4% gain. The sector's weakness was partly owed to disappointment over the latest quarterly reports from Boston Scientific (BSX 5.84, -0.25) and CIGNA (CI 44.13, -1.55). Even Cardinal Health (CAH 42.22, -0.86) traded lower in sympathy, despite its upside earnings surprise.

Fed Chairman Bernanke was in focus during his testimony to the House of Representatives Budget Committee. He indicated that the sluggish expansion of the economy has left it vulnerable to shocks, but noted that concerns about the domestic outlook and developments in Europe are abating.

Bernanke's comments came a day before the release of the official monthly payrolls report, which will be posted tomorrow morning. The pivotal nature of the report made for a more subdued session of trade as many market participants displayed caution. The consensus among economists polled by pegs the increase to nonfarm payrolls at 155,000. Yesterday the ADP Employment Change, which is often directionally accurate relative to expectations, came short of the consensus estimate.

With the monthly payrolls report on the horizon, a modest amount of attention was paid to the latest initial jobless claims tally, which declined by 12,000 to 367,000. That's actually less than the 375,000 initial claims that had been expected, on average, among economists polled by

Fourth quarter productivity and cost data also made few waves. Productivity increased 0.7%, as had been expected, but labor costs climbed 1.2%, which is greater than the 0.7% increase that had been broadly expected.

Advancing Sectors: Energy +0.5%, Financials +0.5%, Consumer Staples +0.3%, Tech +0.3%, Telecom +0.1%
Declining Sectors: Industrials -0.1%, Consumer Discretionary -0.1%, Utilities -0.3%, Health Care -0.4%, Materials -0.5%

Source: Briefing

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