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Thursday, 23 February 2012 | 00:00
DJ30 PointChange: -27.02 Level: 12938.67 NASDAQ PointChange: -15.40 Level: 2933.17 NQ100 PercentChange: -0.4 R2K PercentChange: -0.8 SP400 PercentChange: -0.5 SP500 PointChange: -4.55 Level: 1357.66 NASDAQ-Adv:834 Dec: 1695 NYSE-Adv:1179 Dec: 1828

[BRIEFING.COM] Choppy trade in the early going gave way to moderate selling pressure. Unable to overcome it, stocks suffered varied losses.

Although Asia's major averages advanced in overnight action, selling in Europe imbued the early bias. Without any leadership stocks were left to trade with little direction.

Market participants were dealt only a small dose of data, which proved disappointing. Existing home sales for January hit an annualized rate of 4.57 million units, but that was shy of the rate of 4.63 million units that had been broadly expected. A significant downward revision to prior month sales also hurt the housing picture.

Sellers leaned a little harder in late morning trade, sending stocks to session lows, but overall losses were never severe. Stocks attempted to work their way out of the red, but when the Dow failed to overcome resistance at the neutral line sellers redoubled their efforts. That resulted in a downward chop that left the major averages to book varied losses.

Financials proved to be a heavy drag on trade. The sector lagged all day and settled near its session low with a 1.3% loss. Banks, brokerages, and diversified financial services issues all experienced pronounced selling.

Tech stocks, which make up the largest sector by market weight, moved listlessly this morning, but in afternoon action they came to look weak. As a group tech stocks suffered a 0.4% loss. Among the sector's poorest performers, Dell (DELL 17.15, -1.06) suffered a dramatic drop after the computer company posted earnings that came short of the consensus estimate. In contrast, Intuit (INTU 60.92, +3.40) was a top performing tech play following the firm's upside earnings surprise. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ 28.94, -0.41) shares slipped ahead of their quarterly report.

Energy issues outperformed in the prior session and displayed leadership again in the early going, but the sector was unable to maintain its morning move. That said, the sector was the only one that managed to stay out of negative territory when the broad market set its session low. Collectively, energy stocks eked out a 0.2% gain. In the backdrop, oil prices oscillated before settling pit trade with an incremental gain at $106.35 per barrel.

The dollar had a quiet day. It spent the session simply resting on an early gain that was largely the result of a sharp drop by the sterling pound after it was disclosed that a couple of Bank of England officials had wanted additional stimulus. The euro remained near the neutral line despite news that Greece had its credit rating downgraded by analysts at Fitch.

Europe's latest economic data did nothing to drive action in the euro, but it was blamed for weakness among the continent's major bourses. The latest eurozone Manufacturing PMI inched up to 49.0 from 48.8 in the prior reading, but the sub-50 number still points to tighter activity. At 50.1, Germany's Manufacturing PMI was incrementally above that dividing line, but it was still down from the 51.0 posted in the prior month. France's PMI proved more impressive with its improvement to 50.2 from 48.5 in the prior month.

China posted its latest Manufacturing PMI last night. The reading improved to 49.7 in February from 48.8 in the prior month, but it still suggests that activity is contracting.

Advancing Sectors: Energy +0.2%, Utilities +0.2%
Unchanged: Health Care
Declining Sectors: Industrials -0.1%, Consumer Staples -0.2%, Materials -0.3%, Consumer Discretionary -0.4%, Tech -0.4%, Telecom -0.5%, Financials -1.3%

Source: Briefing

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