Stocks drift after big move last week


Stocks are drifting lower today after a big rally last week.

S&P 500 futures are down by about one-tenth of 1 percent, while most major indexes overseas are lower by about one-third to half a percentage point. Commodities and currencies are also painting a cautious picture in general.

Last week's gains brought the S&P 500 to around its October highs, and the question now is whether investors will continue putting money to work at these levels or wait for a pullback. The market is also bracing for the onset of corporate earnings, punctuated by Alcoa's fourth-quarter release tomorrow afternoon.

Macro risks are now taking a back seat after last week, when economic data in the United States and Asia showed continued signs of acceleration while politicians in Washington reached a compromise to avert feared tax increases and spending cuts.

Health-care stocks and consumer electronics names could also be in focus this week in conjunction with JP Morgan's annual health-care conference being held in San Francisco and the Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas.

Activity in the foreign-exchange and commodity markets is cautious as well. The euro is lower and the Japanese yen is higher across the board, which tends to reflect risk aversion. The one standout currency is the Australian dollar, which is higher against the greenback.

Oil is down by about half a percent, and copper is lower by almost a full percentage point. Both tend to follow share prices. Precious metals are higher, however, with gold climbing half a percent and silver up by almost 1 percent. Both fell in the second half of last week on concern the Federal Reserve would slow monetary expansion. Most agricultural foodstuffs are also higher this morning.

The main pre-market mover so far is gene-sequencing company Illumina, which is falling about 8 percent after agreeing to buy closely held Verinata Health for as much as $450 million. Bank of America is also up 2 percent after reaching a $10 billion settlement with Fannie Mae related to the sale of mortgage loans. It already held reserves against most of the cost.

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