Stocks quoted in this article:
Stocks are trading modestly lower at midday, as traders react to a downbeat report on U.S. retail sales. The Commerce Department noted a seasonally adjusted gain of just 0.4% in January, falling well short of Wall Street's expectations. The automobile industry was a soft spot during the month; ex-autos, retail sales were up by a respectable 0.7% for the month. Meanwhile, traders are also considering a round of downgrades from Moody's, which slashed its credit ratings on notorious debt offenders Spain, Italy, and Portugal -- and warned of possible cuts for France, Austria, and the U.K. Against this uneasy backdrop, the major market indexes have spent the first half of the session pinned below breakeven.
At last look, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA - 12,849.29) has slipped 24.8 points, or 0.2%. The S&P 500 Index (SPX - 1,346.88) is down 4.9 points, or 0.4%, and the Nasdaq Composite (COMP - 2,918.64) has backpedaled 12.8 points, or 0.4%.
Checking in on Dow components, Bank of America (BAC - 8.02) is down 2.7% to pace the 19 declining blue chips. Industrial giant Boeing (BA - 75.37) has gained 0.7% to lead the 11 advancing equities.
The CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX - 19.80) is about 4% higher this afternoon, but the "fear index" has yet to reclaim the 20 level. Earlier in the session, the VIX peaked at 19.97.
Among equities in focus, Rackspace Hosting (RAX - 54.63) touched a new annual high of $54.87 on the heels of its stronger-than-forecast fourth-quarter report. Wall Street rookie Michael Kors (KORS - 41.23) is also enjoying a post-earnings pop, up 22.7% after a well-received quarterly report. On the other hand, a lackluster revenue forecast has pressured United Therapeutics (UTHR - 46.97) to a loss of 4.7%. Over in the options pits, call players set their sights on JetBlue Airways (JBLU), while front-month speculators targeted DryShips (DRYS).