Wednesday, March 9, 2011

No Follow-Through in Sluggish Equity Trading

After Tuesday's excellent ramp-up, traders took a break and squared up (or down) positions as the major indices all finished marginally lower on a day marked by extremely sluggish trading.

Following an early sell-off across the board, stocks regained their footing, hitting highs at midday, but sputtering all afternoon with a squeamish close.

Dow 12,213.09, -1.29 (0.01%)
NASDAQ 2,751.72, -14.05 (0.51%)
S&P 500 1,320.02, -1.80 (0.14%)
NYSE Composite 8,379.44, -14.60 (0.17%)

Declining issues finished ahead of gainers, 3567-2915. There were 92 new highs on the NASDAQ, versus 33 new lows. The NYSE saw 157 stocks hit new highs, with 10 registering new lows. Volume was in the dumpster again, as there seems to be little commitment by traders to take positions or hold them for periods longer than a few days, preferring instead to lock in profits when they appear. With options expiration a little over a week away, a move to the upside would normally be in the cards, but there's a ceiling of resistance about 1-1 1/2% above where the averages sit, so this may be a very quiet period with no major firms reporting quarterly results (that's next month) and scant economic data.

NASDAQ Volume 1,980,708,625
NYSE Volume 4,144,978,250

West Texas Intermediate on the NYMEX traded lower by 64 cents, as conditions in Libya and the Middle East did not change materially, finishing the session at $104.38. Gold gained $2.40, to $1,429.60, while silver was up nicely, gaining 39 cents to $36.05, another new 31-year high.

This kind of choppy trading should continue near-term, or at least until conditions in Libya and elsewhere show signs of stabilizing or going further out of control. In the interim, gold, silver and other hard assets still appear to be the best investments.

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