Stocks could see a volatile Thursday after Wednesday's relative calm with traders anxious to see if the market will pierce its lows.
Dow component Hewlett-Packard could weigh on sentiment in the early going after its disappointing earnings release Wednesday. HP reported a 13 percent decline in first quarter profits and said its second fiscal quarter will be below forecast.
"With Hewlett Packard earnings and some of the action after the bell, that could be the catalyst for the Dow to open below its lows and the S&P to retest its November lows," said Scott Redler of T3Live.com. "Investors should hope that the S&Ps can hold those lows and reverse higher."
Weekly jobless claims are reported at 8:30 a.m., as is January's producer price index. The Philadelphia Fed Survey and leading indicators are both reported at 10 a.m.
Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart speaks on the economy at 1:15 p.m.
Stocks Wednesday meandered in a relatively tight range after Tuesday's volatile trading, as President Barack Obama unveiled his $275 billion mortgage program. The Dow eked out a 3 point gain to 7555, and the S&P 500 was down 0.75 points at 788.42.
Traders say investors are still distressed by the lack of a detailed financial bailout plan for banks, and the financial sector shows it. Financial stocks remained under pressure Wednesday, haunted by concerns about future write downs and the bailout plan. Fifth Third was the biggest loser in the S&P financial sector, but Bank of America , Citigroup and Wells Fargoalso chalked up fairly big declines. The group was down 1.3 percent and was the worst performer as traders continue to chatter about market speculation that some banks could be nationalized.
Dimon Gives Mortgage Plan Thumbs Up
The mortgage plan was given a tepid reception by the markets, but J.P. Morgan's CEO Jamie Dimon, Wall Street's defacto leader and champion, said he thought the plan was "really elegant and really well designed." In an exclusive interview with CNBC's Melissa Francis, Dimon also speculated that J.P. Morgan could modify as many as a million mortgages, up from its expected 600,000 because of incentives in the plan.
"I think people are going to start thinking more about these programs and see where they're going. It almost seems like we retest the lows," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS. The Dow closed just points above its Nov. 20 low, though the S&P is more than 4 percent above its Nov. 20 intraday low.
Traders have been expecting stocks to test the lows this week. "There's a cycle that indicates that should happen," said Cashin.
Redler said the market could be setting up for one last blow out though some traders think the lows will hold. "As a trader, I think the real feeling is we need one last drastic move lower to get rid of the last weak hands in this market and in order to spark a tradable rally," he said.
Appetite for Corporate Debt
Treasury prices weakened after the Fed Wednesday cut its economic forecast for 2009. It removed the possibility of growth from its outlook, and it predicted the economy will contract between 0.5 percent and 1.3 percent this year. This compares to its earlier view that the economy could contract by 0.2 percent or grow slightly, up to 1.1 percent. The Fed also said it opted against buying Treasurys for now, a comment the market was watching for.
As Treasury prices fell, the yield on the two-year rose to 0.96 percent and the yield on the 10-year rose to 2.75 percent. The dollar continued its climb against the euro with a 0.4 percent move up, and it rose 1.60 percent against the yen.
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The Treasury is expected Thursday to announce the size of its auctions of 2-year, 5-year and 7-year notes next week.
Traders were watching the corporate bond market Wednesday where two major bond issuers came to market for more than $27 billion in new debt. Roche's $16 billion issue was the largest U.S. dollar denominated corporate bond sale in history, according to Thomson Reuters. The offering was oversubscribed and had originally started out as an $8 billion issuance, intended to fund Roche's acquisition of Genentech.
Freddie Mac sold $10 billion in three -year notes, the largest single new issue since Freddie started its global note program more than 10 years ago. While demand was strong for the new issues, spreads widened for other corporates.
"We are seeing good, consistent stable movement back to the process of gearing this debt," said Kevin Ferry of Cronus Futures Management. "We just has a refunding of $62 billion. There could be close to $90 billion (in Treasurys) next week."
Ferry said the appetite for corporate debt has also been good among foreigners, who are buying Treasurys and corporates over issues from government sponsored entities, like Fannie Mae and Freddie.
Ferry said the markets are showing signs of adjusting. "The old way of thinking that you could make large amounts of money without risk is over, and the new world is understanding risk and what it takes," he said.
While on the topic of corporate debt, it's not surprising that State Street launched a new corporate bond ETF last week and another of its fastest growing ETFs is an ETF for junk bonds -- SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond (JNK). Anthony Rochte, senior managing director at State Street Global Advisers, said in an interview that another major trend the firm is seeing is big interest in its SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD). "It was below $20 billion at year end and now it's at $28 billion," he said.
Rochte said other trends in ETF investing include a strong interest in dividend investing. He said there's also been growth in global infrastructure.
One's Hot, the Other's Not
Gold and oil continued to move in opposite directions Wednesday, a trend the markets have been following since late November. Oil fell $0.31 per barrel to $34.62, while gold rose $10.70 to settle at $978.20 per troy ounce.
Apache, AXA, CVS Caremark, Newmont Mining and Williams Cos report before the bell. Intuit and Companhia Vale de Rio report after the bell.
CBS fell in after hours trading after it reporteda steep decline in quarterly profitsand said it would chop its dividend to $0.05 from $0.27 per share. The company said its fourth quarter net fell to $136.1 million, from $286.2 million in the year ago fourth quarter. Whole Foods late Wednesday said profits fell by 17 percent but its results were better than analysts' forecasts.
The Chase is On
It was clear Wednesday that U.S. authorities had no idea where R. Allen Stanford has vanishedto since the SEC filed an action against him claiming he and his firm engaged in an ongoing massive fraud. CNBC's David Faber reported that Stanford attempted to hire a private jet to take him to Antigua Tuesday but was turned down because he tried to pay with a credit card on the same day of travel, against the policy of the jet owner.
POTUS North Bound
President Barack Obama takes his first foreign trip Thursday -- to Canada where he will meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.