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US stocks beat New Year retreat

Today’s plunge in prices on Wall Street is in sharp contrast to the bright finish to 2013, posing a question about the staying power of investor enthusiasm.

Given the buoyancy of the stock market throughout the course of 2013, today’s plummeting stock index levels comes as something of a surprise. Of course, one single day does not mean much in isolation, but the pace of today’s declines against a backdrop of positive economic data is a little eyebrow-raising.

The Dow was off by 0.77% (127 points) at 16,449 by early afternoon in New York, while the broader S&P 500 index was down 0.95% at 1831.0. The technology-focused NASDAQ 100 fell by the same percentage as the S&P, both indices being dragged down by Apple, which dropped 1.46% after being the recipient of a downgrade from Wells Fargo.

Reports today point to strength in the US manufacturing sector: Markit’s manufacturing PMI climbed to 55.0 from a mid-month reading of 54.4, while the ISM manufacturing survey remained in high, expansionary levels at 57.0 following the 57.3 level seen in November. The forward-looking new orders component was strong in each index, auguring on-going strength in the sector.

Jobless claims fell 2000 to 339,000 last week, although the previous week was amended higher by 3000, meaning little overall change. This number is likely still skewed by seasonal factors, though, and we are likely to see with greater clarity the state of the jobs market in the next couple of weeks, not least with the release of the December payrolls data, which is scheduled for a week tomorrow.

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