Wall Street ends flat despite Spain hope, S&P off for week

Symbol Price Change
VVUS 21.00 -2.72
 
DRI 57.21 2.49
 
^DJI 13,579.47 -17.46
 
^HGX 167.04 2.86
 
^INX 312.19 0.00
 
 

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  • View PhotoTraders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, September 20, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Aleksandra Michalska

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stocks closed flat on Friday even though investors welcomed Spain’s efforts to seek a bailout and cheered Apple’s newest iPhone that went on sale today, driving its shares to a record high.

Apple Inc (AAPL), the world’s most valuable public company in terms of market capitalization, jumped to an all-time high of $705.07 as customers lined up to buy the iPhone 5. Apple’s stock ended up 0.2 percent at $700.10.

News from Spain helped lift stocks after the debt-laden country said it was considering freezing pensions and speeding up a planned rise in the retirement age as it raced to cut spending and meet conditions of an expected international sovereign aid package.

The moves, taken with the European Central Bank’s efforts to spur growth in the euro zone and the Fed’s recent announcement of a third round of quantitative easing, continued to underpin gains.

“The market is predominantly looking forward to the Federal Reserve and the QE infinity that the Fed promised, and the globally coordinated easing cycle,” said Steve Wood, chief market strategist at Russell Investments in New York.

This week, though, the market’s action has been muted, with the S&P 500 barely moving 0.6 percent in either direction daily.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) slipped 17.46 points, or 0.13 percent, to close at 13,579.47. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (^GSPC) dipped just 0.11 of a point, or 0.01 percent, to finish at 1,460.15. The Nasdaq Composite Index (^IXIC) rose 4.00 points, or 0.13 percent, to close at 3,179.96.

Earlier, the S&P 500 hit an intraday high of 1,467.07, while the Nasdaq reached a session high of 3,196.93.

A quick and sharp sell-off in spot gold shortly after midday, driven by a rumor that the CME may raise margin requirements on commodities, weighed on financial services stocks, according to Joseph Greco, managing director of Meridian Equity Partners in New York.

Many banks and other companies in the financial sector have high exposure to gold and other commodities, so any increase in margin requirements would affect them, Greco said.

Spot gold later recovered to trade up 0.6 percent at $1,777.19 an ounce by 1:11 p.m. EDT on Friday, after hitting a session high of $1,787.20 – close to its 2012 high of $1,790.30.

But financial shares were still lower by late afternoon on Friday. The S&P financial index (.GSPF) ended down 0.3 percent.

The transportation sector limited the market’s advance on Friday, when the Dow Jones Transportation Average (.DJT) fell 1 percent. Earlier this week, two large shipping companies – FedEx Corp. (FDX.N) and Norfolk Southern Corp. (NSC.N) – warned about the impact of the weakening world economy on their results.

At the close, FedEx shares slid 0.9 percent to $84.39 and Norfolk Southern shares lost 1.7 percent to $65. On Wednesday, a few brokerage firms cut their price targets on FedEx stock. On Friday, four brokers lowered their price targets on Norfolk Southern’s stock.

The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (^GSPC) has gained 5.9 percent since the start of August, mostly on expectations for new economic stimulus measures from the world’s central banks. On September 13, the Federal Reserve announced a third round of stimulus or quantitative easing, known as Q3, intended to bolster the economy and reduce U.S. unemployment.

The market was more active than usual because of “quadruple witching,” the quarterly settlement and expiration of four different types of September equity futures and options contracts. Expiration can lead to greater volume and volatility as players adjust or exercise their derivative positions.

“There was a little bit of a sell-off towards the close, but nothing crazy,” said JJ Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade. “There is not much volatility because the market has been trading in a pretty tight range most of the day, and it looks like most of the players have already rolled their positions over the last two weeks.”

Looking ahead to quarterly earnings, one bright spot came from the fashion front. Shares of Michael Kors Holdings Ltd (KORS.N) shot up 9.3 percent to close at $57.35. The fashion and accessory designer’s company said it will probably earn more than it expected in the second quarter as it banks on strong global sales.

Housing shares climbed, led by KB Home (KBH), up 16.4 percent at $15.26, after the fifth-largest U.S. homebuilder reported a surprising quarterly profit and said its revenue backlog hit a four-year high. The PHLX housing sector index (^HGX) surged 1.74 percent.

Oracle Corp (ORCL) gained 0.7 percent to $32.47 a day after the software maker reported first-quarter earnings, excluding items, that met Wall Street’s expectations. Oracle’s hardware sales, however, are expected to drop further after tumbling 24 percent from a year ago.

Volume totaled 7.92 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the Amex.

Advancers beat decliners on both the NYSE and the Nasdaq by a ratio of 3 to 2. On the NYSE, there were 303 stocks hitting new highs and eight setting new lows. On the Nasdaq, 191 stocks touched new highs while 28 stocks reached new lows

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