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Thursday, 22 December 2011 | 00:00
DJ30 PointChange: +4.16 Level: 12107.74 NASDAQ PointChange: -25.76 Level: 2577.97 NQ100 PercentChange: -1.4 R2K PercentChange: +0.2 SP400 PercentChange: +0.2 SP500 PointChange: +2.42 Level: 1243.72 NASDAQ-Adv:1255 Dec: 1298 NYSE-Adv:1852 Dec: 1169 BRIEFING.COM] A gradual afternoon ascent helped the broad market slash its loss, but pronounced weakness among tech issues undermined the rebound effort. That left the major equity averages to settle with varied results.

Stocks were dragged down in the early going when participants responded to a reversal by Europe's major bourses, which failed to sustain gains that followed a bank borrowing report from the European Central Bank. Although the report suggested that the needs of banks have been more than adequately met, it also indicated that more firms were in need of funding. The euro was never able to fully overcome selling pressure; it was down 0.5% against the greenback by session's end.

Oracle (ORCL 25.77, -3.40) added to the pessimistic tone of early trade. The software outfit disappointed investors with weaker-than-expected revenue and earnings. The company's quarterly report was further tainted by a tepid outlook. The stock was able to resist efforts to take it to a new 52-week low and even got some relief in late afternoon trade, but the shares still suffered their worst single-session slide in years.

Many other tech stocks were weakened by Oracle's report, such that the overall sector sank to a 2.0% loss. Tech stocks, which make up the largest sector by market cap, weighed heavily on broad market trade. In fact, tech was the only sector in 10 that failed to finish in positive territory, but the S&P 500 still only managed to muster a narrow gain. Meanwhile, the tech-rich Nasdaq was never able to catch up with its counterparts.

Leadership was never clear, but energy stocks helped provide a broad market lift in afternoon trade. Collectively they scored a 1.2% gain with help from higher oil prices, which closed at $98.70 per barrel for a 1.5% gain following an unexpectedly large draw from weekly inventories.

While the broad market was mired in the red for most of the session utilities ascended 1.5%, notching a new 52-week high along the way. Even when excluding dividends utilities have been one of the best performing sectors of the year; they're up more than 13% year to date. Constellation Energy (CEG 39.45, +0.95) came into closer focus when the stock dove in response to headlines that its merger with Exelon (EXC 43.24, +0.91) could be blocked, but that rumor was later dispelled.

A better-than-expected bottom line and a solid future orders increase gave shares of Nike (NKE 96.23, +2.60) strong gains, but not enough to send the stock back to the record high that it had set earlier this month. The rest of the discretionary space mustered only a modest gain.

Data today was limited to November existing home sales numbers, which improved to an annualized rate of 4.42 million units from 4.25 million units, but that was still short of the 5.03 million unit rate that had been expected, on average, among economists polled by Authorities also reported that sales from 2007 through 2010 were revised downward by 14%.

Advancing Sectors: Utilities +1.5%, Energy +1.2%, Consumer Staples +1.1%, Health Care +0.7%, Financials +0.6%, Telecom +0.4%, Materials +0.3%, Consumer Discretionary +0.3%, Industrials +0.2%
Declining Sectors: Tech -2.0%

Source: Briefing

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