A car drives with a Russian flag on a road outside the Crimean port city of Feodosia March 24, 2014. Ukraine announced the evacuation of its troops and their families from Crimea on Monday, effectively acknowledging defeat in the face of Russian forces, who stormed one of the last remaining Ukrainian bases on the peninsula.
The stock markets ended their two-day losing streak.
First, the scoreboard:
- Dow: 16,367.8 (+91.1, +0.5%)
- S&P 500: 1,865.6 (+8.1, +0.4%)
- Nasdaq: 4,234.2, (+7.8, +0.1%)
And now the top stories:
- There was quite a bit of economic data today.
- According to S&P/ Case-Shiller, U.S. home prices climbed by 0.85% month over month in January, or 13.24% year over year. "The housing recovery may have taken a breather due to the cold weather," said S&P's David Blitzer. "Expectations and recent data point to continued home price gains for 2014. Although most analysts do not expect the same rapid increases we saw last year, the consensus is for moderating gains. Existing home sales declined slightly in February and are at their lowest level since July 2012."
- New home sales fell 3.3% month over month in February to an annualized pace of 440,000. However, this wasn't as bad as the 4.9% decline expected by economists. "Any consideration of new home sales has to keep in mind that these data are very badly measured, with the standard error on the monthly percent change having reached an astronomical +/- 18%," noted Morgan Stanley's Ted Wieseman. "But, for what it's worth, the smooth pattern of sales through the winter portrays surprising resilience during the severe weather."
- The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index jumped to 82.3 in March from 78.3 in February. This was much stronger than the 78.5 expected by economists. “Consumer confidence improved in March, as expectations for the short-term outlook bounced back from February’s decline,” said The Conference Board's Lynn Franco. “While consumers were moderately more upbeat about future job prospects and the overall economy, they were less optimistic about income growth. The Present Situation index, which had been on an upward trend for the past four months, was relatively unchanged in March. Overall, consumers expect the economy to continue improving and believe it may even pick up a little steam in the months ahead.”
- In a ground-breaking development for Bitcoin, the IRS announced rules on digital currencies. From the IRS' Q&A: "For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property. General tax principles applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency."
- In stock-specific news, fuel-cell-maker Plug Power surged by 49%. Shares exploded after MarketWatch's Sue Chang reported there was a "major deal" in the pipeline. "We signed an additional order in North America with a global automaker," CEO Andy Marsh reportedly told Chang. There wasn't much detail beyond that.
- Société Générale's Albert Edwards warns that the rate of profit growth is sending a bad signal. From Edwards: "While profits growth is so anaemic, any adverse shock such as an Asian currency devaluation that we have discussed previously (including both Japan and China), will be enough to deepen that profits recession and send US investment expenditure into decline. While most equity investors appear to believe that the US economy has reached escape velocity, a recession carries a far higher risk than the market supposes."
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