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Tuesday focus: Commodities crush versus earnings

A gusher of corporate earnings reports could set the tone for stocks Tuesday, as traders keep an eye on the increasingly sloppy commodities markets.

Early morning earnings reports are expected from Travelers, Untied Technologies, Verizon and Novartis but the big release of the day comes after the closing bell when Apple reports. Microsoft, Yahoo, GoPro, Chipotle, VMWare, iRobot and Intuitive Surgical are also reporting after the bell.

"We've kind of moved past the macro into the micro, and the earnings are pretty good, and that's lifting stocks," said Andrew Burkly, head of institutional portfolio strategy at Oppenheimer Asset Management.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Stocks were barely higher Monday, with the S&P 500 up 1 point at 2,128, two points shy of its all-time high. The Nasdaq broke into new territory, gaining 8 to 5,218, and the Dow was up 13 at 18,100.

"We still have pretty bifurcated action. Health Care, financials, technology—they're doing OK, going up to new highs. But commodities and interest rate sensitives are lagging," said Burkly.

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"Some of the underlying breadth data is poor because of that. On the underperformers, it feels like something's got to give one way or the other."

Commodities markets were in the red Monday, as the dollar's gains added to negative sentiment. The dollar index was at a three-month high. West Texas Intermediate crude futures slipped 74 cents to $50.15, after slipping below $50 for the first time since April. The market was pressured by comments that Iran was moving toward increasing its production by 2 million barrels.

Gold was also lower, with gold futures settling at the lowest level in more than five years, after a big seller hit the market in Shanghai overnight, and China revealed its gold holdings were less than expected. Gold futures fell 2.2 percent to $1,106.80 an ounce, and strategists expect it to fall further.

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Wheat and grains also fell, with wheat off more than 3 percent at its lowest level in more than three weeks. It has lost nearly 9 percent in the last couple of sessions.

The question though is whether commodities are selling off with the rising dollar, or because global growth is slowing down. Expectations the Federal Reserve will raise rates this year, as stated by its chair, Janet Yellen, have been supporting the dollar which in turn hits commodities.

"The commodities side is saying global growth is slowing. The bond side is saying it's interest rate fears," said Burkly.

"We're seeing these divergences grow starker than I've seen," he said. "It's not the all boats moving higher kind of thing."

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Burkly said the commodities selloff could influence the timing of the Fed's first rate hike.

"There's no inflation or reflation trade out there. Oil is going back down and testing its lows," he said. "I think if you go back and break those March lows in all those commodities, I think September becomes unlikely."

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