As we approach the end of the quarter, there is lots of anxiety but also lots of generally good news for stocks.
The S&P 500 up 4.9 percent, the best first quarter since 1998. Lots of new highs in energy, transports and telecom.
A mere 112 points away from hitting a new 2.5-year high, the Dow is now up over 6 percent this quarter, its best Q1 since 1999.
And...let's be honest...could there possibly be a bigger wall of worry than what we have now? If you would have said we would be dealing with a Japanese earthquake that has created a nuclear crisis, many Middle Eastern countries on the brink of radical political change, and continuing uncertainty about Europe's debt crisis, most traders would not have bet the S&P would be up 4.9 percent.
All of this is predicated on an improving U.S. and global economy. But there are some signs of concern. Brian Levitt, economist at Oppenheimer Funds, was on our air this morning, noting that he had cut back GDP growth forecasts after seeing a retrenchment in consumer spending.
He's not the only one — others have noted a widening trade deficit, some signs of a pullback in capital spending, and have also trimmed GDP growth.
1) The ADP Employment Change for March, at 201,000 jobs created, was about in line with expectations. This is a reassuring number — close to the March nonfarm payroll consensus that will be out on Friday. Jobless claims trends have been improving, but you do need job growth.
2) Chinese internet browser and security company Qihoo 360 priced its IPO at $14.50, the high end of the range...look for a nice pop at the open. This one has the three sacred words that all IPO traders love to mutter: China. Internet. Security.
3) Apollo Global Management priced its highly-anticipated IPO at $19 per share, at the high end of the expected range. The private equity firm raised $565 million, more than expected as it priced 19 percent more shares than in it originally planned.
4) Family Dollar rises 1 percent after beating Q2 earnings by a penny. Same-store sales rose a solid 5.1 percent thanks to both greater store traffic and higher average transaction values.
Guidance for the current quarter is inline with estimates, but the discounter's outlook for the year is quite strong. Full-year earnings are expected between $3.13-$3.23 (vs. $3.12 consensus) on sales growth of up 8-10 percent (vs. up 8.4 percent consensus).
5) Another grim housing data point. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported than mortgage applications fell 7.5 percent in the week ended March 25. The decline was led by a 10 percent drop in refinancing applications as 30-year fixed mortgage rates climbed to 4.92 percent from 4.80 percent in the prior week.
6) With the completion of Sanofi-Aventis' acquisition of Genzyme nearing, S&P announced that investment manager BlackRockwill replace the biotech firm in the S&P 500, effective after the close on Friday. BlackRock has a market cap of $36 billion, greater than the $20 billion market cap for Genzyme.
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