U.S. stocks fluctuate on manufacturing data amid retail reports

U.S. stocks fluctuated, following a three-month advance in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (CME:SPZ13), as data showed manufacturing unexpectedly climbed last month and investors assessed reports on holiday retail sales.

Urban Outfitters Inc. lost 3.8% as retail spending fell on the weekend after Thanksgiving for the first time since 2009. EBay Inc. climbed 1.9% as a report showed online spending on Black Friday rose to a record. Newmont Mining Corp., the world’s second-largest gold producer, slipped 3.8% as the precious metal’s price declined. 3M Co. lost 3.5% after Morgan Stanley downgraded the stock.

The S&P 500 fell less than 1 point to 1,805.48 at 2:54 p.m. in New York after earlier rising as much as 0.2%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 39.98 points, or 0.3%, to 16,046.43. Trading in S&P 500 stocks was 16% lower than the 30-day average at this time of day.

“It seems like a sleepy day after Thanksgiving, nothing exciting going on,” Frank Ingarra, head trader at Greenwich, Connecticut-based NorthCoast Asset Management LLC, said by phone. His firm oversees about $1.8 billion. “Investors are probably waiting to see if there’s any news from the Fed later in the month and trying to get a read on retail sales.”

The S&P 500 climbed 2.8% last month and has gained 27% this year, poised for the best annual performance since 1998, after the Federal Reserve refrained from tapering its third round of economic stimulus. The central bank next meets Dec. 17-18. The index ended November with its eighth straight weekly advance, the longest rally in almost a decade, as data on employment and consumer sentiment boosted confidence in economic growth.

Factory Data

The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index rose to 57.3 in November from 56.4 a month earlier, the Tempe, Arizona- based group’s report showed today. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of 77 economists called for a drop to 55.1. Estimates ranged from 53.5 to 57.5. Manufacturing accounts for about 12% of the economy.

A separate report from Markit Economics showed the final November index of U.S. manufacturing increased to 54.7 from 51.8 the previous month. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for no change from the preliminary November reading of 54.3. Other reports showed manufacturing in the euro area, U.K. and China expanded faster than estimated.

The Labor Department’s jobs report on Dec. 6 is forecast to show the U.S. added 180,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate slipped to 7.2%, matching the lowest level in five years. The weakest employment recovery in seven decades is proving a boon to equity markets.

$14 Trillion

Five years into a rally that has restored $14 trillion to share prices, U.S. payrolls remain 1.5 million below the level in 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Resistance to hiring from ConocoPhillips to Walt Disney Co. will help push S&P 500 profit margins above 10% next year, the highest ever, data show. Below-average employment was cited last month by Fed chairman nominee Janet Yellen as the biggest obstacle to raising interest rates.

December has been the second-best month for U.S. equity returns, according to data compiled by Bloomberg that starts in 1928. The average return for the month is 1.5%, more than twice the overall monthly mean of 0.6%. Should stocks match their historic gains this month, it would put the index at 1,832.90 by the end of the year.

U.S. retailers are coming off the first spending decline on a Black Friday weekend since 2009. Purchases at stores and websites fell 2.9% to $57.4 billion during the four days beginning with the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving holiday, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation.

Holiday Sales

“I would have expected Thanksgiving weekend sales to be stronger, given how well financial markets have done,” Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman Wealth Management, which oversees $22 billion, said by phone. “We’re skeptical that the price movement in stocks this year has been supported by fundamentals, so we’re lightening up.”

An S&P index of retailers lost 0.6% for the third- worst performance among 24 industries. Urban Outfitters paced declines, losing 3.8% to $37.54 after being downgraded to neutral from buy at Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc.

Online spending rose 15% to a record $1.2 billion, according to ComScore Inc., as more customers opted to shop from their couches rather than battling long lines at stores. Online retailers can expect 131 million shoppers for today’s Cyber Monday promotions, up from 129 million last year, the National Retail Federation said.

EBay climbed 1.9% to $51.47. The company was the second-most visited online retailer on Black Friday, behind Amazon.com Inc., ComScore said.

Energy Stocks

Four of 10 main industries in the S&P 500 advanced, with health-care shares rising 0.3% for the biggest gain. Forest Laboratories Inc. jumped 8.9% to $55.89 for the largest advance in the index.

Dow Chemical Co. added 2.9 to $40.20. The largest U.S. chemical maker by sales plans to separate chlorine-related assets including its epoxy business as the company focuses on higher-margin activities.

Freddie Mac rose 6.6% to $2.57. Bank of America Corp. agreed to pay the government-sponsored mortgage insurer $404 million to resolve mortgage-repurchase claims.

The deal covers about 716,000 loans created by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America from Jan. 1, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2009, and sold to Freddie Mac, the firms said today in separate statements.

Building Sale

Graham Holdings Co., which is changing its name from Washington Post Co., lost 6.5% to $630. The education and media company agreed to sell its headquarters building in downtown Washington to Carr Properties for about $159 million.

3M dropped 3.5% to $128.90 for the biggest loss in the Dow. Morgan Stanley downgraded the stock to the equivalent of sell and Oppenheimer & Co. chief market technician Carter Worth said the stock is overpriced.

Travelers Cos. slid 1.8% to $89.13. The second- largest U.S. commercial insurer was cut to neutral from buy at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Groupon Inc., the online discount-coupon company, slid 4.3% to $8.66. Goldman Sachs cut its rating on the stock to neutral from buy.

Newmont lost 3.8% to $23.89. Gold touched to the lowest level since July, as signs of the strengthening U.S. economy fueled speculation the Fed will curb its monetary stimulus.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, the gauge of S&P 500 options known as the VIX, rose 2% to 13.97 today. The measure has gained five straight sessions, rallying 13%, for the longest winning streak this year.


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