Check out which companies are making headlines after the bell Wednesday:
Traders chase both sides of Fed debate. Is this a signature day for the markets? Not clear yet.» Read More
Check out which companies are making headlines after the bell Wednesday:
Traders chase both sides of Fed debate.
Is this a signature day for the markets? Not clear yet, but a couple data points: 1) heavy volume, 2) spike in volatility, and 3) a key paragraph from the FOMC Minutes:
"A number of participants expressed willingness to adjust the flow of purchases downward as early as the June meeting if the economic information received by that time showed evidence of sufficiently strong and sustained growth; however, views differed about what evidence would be necessary and the likelihood of that outcome."
Uh-oh...they mentioned a June meeting! It's over! Aargh!
Hold on: "views differed about what evidence would be necessary and the likelihood of that outcome."
They can't even agree on what evidence would be sufficient for them to begin tapering! With the voting members heavily weighted toward doves, does anyone think the Fed is going to taper in June? Anyone? I didn't think so.
In my informal, unscientific surveys of traders, only about 25 percent of the traders I talk to believe the Fed might begin tapering by September; the majority believe they will not do so until 2014.
They could be wrong, but unless we see Nonfarm Payrolls over, say, 250,000 for the next three months, I too think it is unlikely the Fed starts tapering in the next few months.
Instead of asking, "Why did we drop midday?," let me turn this around and ask, "Why did the Dow move up 150 points right after the Bernanke testimony--why were we up in the first place, given that Bernanke was very balanced?"
The answer is, traders are chasing both sides of the story.
The guys who believe the economy is weak--and that the Fed will not move before 2014--point to comments from the Fed minutes like, "Many on FOMC Wanted to Wait for Stronger Data Before Tapering," or "Many on FOMC Said More Progress Needed Before Slowing QE Pace."
Note the phrase, "many."
But many are now trying to position themselves hawkishly and are trying to drag the market in their direction.
Finally, several have asked why the market sold off at 1:00 p.m. ET--an hour before the Fed minutes. Silly theories that "someone knew something" aside (please), news of a police officer being killed--and hacked to death--in London--along with disturbing video of one of the apparent killers with blood-soaked hands--may have been a factor in the markets drop.
Take a look at some of Wednesday's midday movers:
Stocks were boosted by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's Congressional testimony about the economy and monetary policy, but came off highs as he discussed when the Fed might start paring back on its bond buying program.
Nine of the ten large-cap S&P 500 sectors were in the green at midday. Health care was the best performer, while utilities dipped into the red.
Trading in stocks and bonds was highly volatile after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke discussed how the central bank might wind down its monetary easing policy, and Fed minutes later showed a group of Fed officials were ready to move ahead with paring back.
Stocks and bonds both were both lower in late trading, after initially rallying hard Wednesday on the Fed chairman's initial testimony before Congress, which the markets took as a sign that "tapering" of the Fed's $85 billion a month bond purchase program was off the table for now. Discussions about tapering have been fanned by hawkish Fed officials who have said they believe paring back the program should happen sooner rather than later, and in one case as early as June.
But when Bernanke was questioned by the Joint Economic Committee on specifics of the timing of tapering, the markets did a double take, with stocks moving well off their highs and Treasurys selling off. The Dow sank 100 points, and the 10-year Treasury yield snapped above 2 percent, its highest level since March. Gold was trading down nearly $8 at $1369 at midday, but it too had been jolted higher by Bernanke's initial comments, rising to $1413.
SolarCity, with its shares up more than 50 percent in a little more than a week, may go down as the poster child of the sizzling market for this round of nuttiness for solar stocks.
Yet, as Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov is quick to point out, the market gains are after mixed first quarter results and second quarter guidance "that was definitely on the soft side, leading us to cut estimates for the second time this year."
Oh, and by the way, in less than 20 days, 60 million SolarCity shares, restricted since the company's IPO six months ago, will get unlocked, Molchanov said. If the stock continues the way it has been, he added, "this thing can go off the rails."
What's behind the latest super solar flare? Molchanov believes the current run in the likes of SolarCity, SunPower and Trina Solar "is, quite simply, an exceptionally violent short squeeze." Molchanov has been acutely candid in his assessment of the solar sector, recently calling out what he believes is accounting gimmickry at another solar company, First Solar, during an appearance on CNBC's Fast Money.
Molchanov goes out of his way in a report to say how much he likes SolarCity, the company. But he rates it a hold, noting that "for a textbook story stock like this, valuation does not always matter—at least not in the context of a broader market that is setting new highs virtually every day." But he also believes its current value "will be very difficult to sustain in a more rational market environment."
(Read More: The Solar Power Paradox: Boom, Bust or Both?)
One other thing, in a report on Tuesday, Molchanov said his checks with the solar distribution channel do not support the "boom times" solar stocks are suggesting.
Notably, he was struck by a conversation he had with a private Chinese solar manufacturer. (Historically, I've found that private companies can be excellent reality checks on public companies because they don't have a stock to hype or support.)
"Needless to say," Molchanov wrote, "they are as baffled as we are by some of the irrational exuberance in the share prices of their publicly-traded competitors."
My take is that we've seen this before. These irrational moves are occurring in sectors throughout the market, as the undercurrent fueled by low interest rates continues.
Traders overreact to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments. Mr. Bernanke, in his Q and A, essentially reiterated what New York Fed President William Dudley said yesterday: that any change in the flow of bond purchases will depend on the incoming data.
A question about whether the Fed might reduce bond purchases before Labor Day elicited the same reply: the Fed could reduce bond purchases in the next few meetings if the data supported it.
But stocks immediately came off their highs, bonds dropped on the comment. This seems to have been interpreted to mean there was some kind of imminent end to purchases was occurring.
Dudley warned yesterday that there was a real risk of the markets overreacting to any talk of tightening. Here is a good example of this.
Dudley also said it will take three or four months before the Fed will know if the economy is strong enough for it to begin tapering its purchases of bonds.
Most traders believe that the chances of June tapering is zero, with only a minority that something will happen in the July 30-31 meeting. Some believe the chances are higher for the September meeting, but most still think the data will likely remain weak and the Fed will not move until 2014.
If you don't think this is hard to parse, consider the two different headlines, this from Barron's: "Bernanke Doesn't Rule Out Fed Taper In the Next Few Months"; and this one at the same time from Reuters: "Bernanke Offers No Hint of Pullback in Fed Stimulus." Finally, this from AP: "Stocks Surge as Bernanke Retains Dovish Tone".
Why is this hysterical parsing happening? Because markets are now so dependent on central bank support, because organic growth is so lackluster, that any hint of premature withdraw of stimulus creates a knee-jerk reaction.
Unfortunately, we're going to have to get used to this. We're all parsing commas now, for every Fed official, into the foreseeable future.
Bernanke pre-empted by Dudley: Will he throw it back into Congress' lap?
Bernanke, in his written testimony, confirmed what Dudley and others had already said: That premature tightening of monetary policy could stall the recovery.
But how about this: How about a more aggressive Bernanke, one who insists that the Fed has done all it can, who turns the tables on Congress and insist that lawmakers begin addressing the fiscal issues?
Bernanke hinted at this in his written testimony, but let's hope he is more assertive in the Q&A: "To promote economic growth and stability in the longer term, it will be essential for fiscal policymakers to put the federal budget on a sustainable long-run path."
Check out which companies are making headlines before the bell on Wednesday:
Target —The retailer reported first quarter profit of 77 cents per share on a GAAP basis, $1.05 excluding certain items, compared to estimates of 85 cents. It also lowered its earnings per share (EPS) forecast for the year, saying colder than normal weather got its spring season off to a slow start.
Lowe's —The home improvement retailer reported first quarter profit of 49 cents per share, two cents short of Street estimates. Revenues also came up short of analyst projections, with Lowe's citing cooler-than-normal temperatures, and more rain impacting the spring selling season.
Staples — Staples earned 26 cents per share for the first quarter, excluding certain items, one cent short of estimates. Revenue was also short of Street estimates, with factors such as store closures and foreign exchange weighing on sales.
Toll Brothers — The home builder reported quarterly profit of 14 cents per share, seven cents above estimates, as it saw an increase in orders and higher average selling prices.
Intuit — The software producer reported fiscal third quarter profits of $2.97 per share, excluding certain items, four cents above estimates. However, Intuit's current quarter EPS guidance of 3 - 7 cents per share fell below Street estimates of 11 cents. The company behind the popular Quicken and TurboTax software called the latest tax season "lackluster".
Analog Devices — The company earned 52 cents per share for its second quarter, in line with estimates, but its current quarter outlook of 51 – 56 cents range fell short of the 57 cents per share consensus estimate. The designer of signal-processing technology has been hit by global economic concerns and weak customer demand through the industry.
NetApp — The company reported fiscal fourth quarter profit of 69 cents per share, beating estimates by a penny, with revenues in line. The data storage company does see current quarter earnings short of the 53 cent consensus estimates, citing a range of 45 - 50 cents as it deals with higher expenses and slower sales. NetApp has also initiated a quarterly dividend of 15 cents per share, and started a restructuring which will include cutting 900 jobs.
Merck — Merck announced a $5 billion accelerated share repurchase program. The drug maker will buy back nearly 100 million shares from Goldman Sachs at current market prices.
Sony —Sony has cut sales targets for digital cameras, smartphones, and tablet computers, although it does see "encouraging signs" for its electronics business. The company also plans to assess a proposal from investor Daniel Loeb, its biggest shareholder, that it spin off its entertainment business.
Ford —The automaker will shut down 21 of its North American factories for one week this summer, a shorter time than usual, to meet growing demand.
Dick's Sporting Goods — The stock has been removed from the "Top Picks Live" list at Citi, although the firm is maintaining a "buy" rating on the sporting goods retailer's stock.
SodaStream — JPMorgan Chase has downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "overweight".
Advanced Micro Devices — Jefferies repeated its "buy" rating on the chipmaker, saying Microsoft's newly announced XBox One, as well as Sony's PS4, will add $9 billion in new revenues. AMD's chips are used in both video game consoles.
Corn futures Tuesday skidded to multi-week lows on reports that U.S. farmers are catching up with crop plantings at a record-setting pace.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Monday reported that 71 percent of the corn crop was in the ground, versus 28 percent last week. In the last five years, an average 79 percent has been planted by this time of year.
The increase of 43 percentage points amounts to 41.8 million acres, a record, according to Reuters.
Shares of Sony moved sharply higher Tuesday on heavy volume as reports circulated that the electronics giant is considering a proposal from billionaire investor and major shareholder Dan Loeb.
Japan's Nikkei reports that Sony will have third-party financial advisors estimate how much its value would increase from Loeb's proposal to spin off its movie and music business. Loeb has disclosed about a 6 percent stake in Sony.
Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy.
Greenberg is senior stocks commentator for CNBC appearing throughout business day programming and on CNBC.com.
A CNBC reporter since 1990, Pisani reports on Wall Street and the stock market from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Follow him on Twitter @BobPisani.
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