Stocks could continue their sideways drift Thursday, as investors watch a few big earnings, jobless claims and an anticipated merger agreement for American Airlines.
But traders are also looking for will decide the next big directional move for stocks, after the market's near 7 percent climb since the start of the year. "We've made a very rapid move very quickly. Consolidation is not surprising," said Wedbush Securities' Steve Massocca. "I think in lieu of correction, we're going to have sideways action."
The Dow was lower Wednesday, finishing down 35 points at 13,982, while the S&P rose less than a point to 1520. The Nasdaq, which has been lagging, rose 10 points to 3196, and the Russell 2000 gained another three points to 920, another new record.
While the indices are not making much headway, some individual stocks are making big moves. After the bell trading was particularly busy Wednesday.Zillow jumped more than 14 percent after earnings, while Weight Watcherswas down more than 14 percent on earnings. Cisco was down nearly two percent after earnings, and Whole Foods was also down more than six percent.
Massocca pointed to the after-hours decline in Century Link, after it cut its dividend. That follows on the steep decline Wednesday in Cliffs Natural Resources, which also shaved its dividend.
Massocca oversees the Wedbush Hedged Dividend Fund, which holds a small amount of both. "When these high dividend stocks blow up they blow sky high," he said, adding his fund was up Wednesday because he has a diverse portfolio and owned just a small amount of Cliffs, which fell nearly 20 percent.
Bond yields rose Wednesday as prices fell in selling that picked up steam around the 1 p.m. 10-year auction. The reception for the $24 billion in 10-year notes was soft, and the auction went at a high yield of 2.046 percent, higher than expected. On Thursday, the Treasury auctions $16 billion in 30-year bonds.
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"Tomorrow is the real test," said Brian Edmonds, head of interest rate trading at Cantor Fitzgerald. "The 10-year auction was struggling. We'll see if we can turn that around. I don't know where the selling is coming from. It's got the feeling that people are ignoring some of the Fed purchases." The Fed, under its quantitative easing program, is buying $85 billion in Treasurys and mortgage securities each month.
"Since you've gotten the QE to infinity announcement, you've seen rates go higher. Part of that is the economy starting to turn around, the equity market is rallying," he said. Edmonds said if the 10-year gets to 2.25 percent and higher, the benefits of the Fed program could be lost. Edmonds said some of the selling in 10-years could be mortgage traders hedging their mortgage holdings as rates go higher.
Massocca said the market continues to be pushed forward by Fed policies and super low interest rates. "Zero rates. It's like lighting a bomb," he said. "To me that's a tell that stocks are going to do well. People aren't going to buy 10-year Treasurys." But Massocca said the eventual reversal of the Fed's programs could hit markets. "I think it could lead to some ugly events but those ugly events are two to three years off."
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Thursday is Valentine's Day, and that's not usually a day that investors love to buy stocks. According to Howard Silverblatt of Standard and Poor's, the S&P 500 has been up only 39.1 percent of the time on February 14.
What to Watch
US Airways is expected to announce its $11 billion acquisition of American Airlines parent AMR, creating the largest U.S. airline.Watchers of the "currency wars" will be tuned into the G-20 finance ministers gathering in Moscow Thursday. Traders are watching for any more currency-related comments after the G-7 issued a statement seen as aimed at Japan. It said that fiscal and monetary policies would not be aimed at devaluing currencies.
Weekly jobless claims are released at 8:30 a.m. ET and are expected to total 360,000, down slightly from last week. Natural gas inventories are released at 10:30 a.m.
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There are earnings expected from General Motors, Pepsico, Molson Coors, EnCana, Targa Resources, Discovery communications, Rio Tinto, Vulcan Materials, Cabela's and Jarden, ahead of the bell. After the bell reports are expected from CBS, Goldcorp, Brocade Communications, Agilent, Weingarten Realty, and Health Management Associates.