After a volatile trading session on Wednesday, U.S. stocks ended the trading session virtually unchanged. Breaking the trend was the Dow Jones which gained to hit a new record close for the third time this year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) advanced 0.1%, or 15.38 points, to 18,224.5. On the downside was the S&P 500 index (SPX) which closed down 0.1%, or 1.6 points, at 2,113.86. The gains on the benchmark index were led by consumer discretionary stocks while utilities sold off the most. Also on the downside was the Nasdaq Composite index (COMP) which broke its 10-session winning streak to end less than a point off at 4,967.14. The declines in the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were prompted by a drop in the share price of Apple Inc. by 2.6 percent. Meanwhile, Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve Chairwoman, continued her testimony before Congress where she continued to stress that the Fed would not consider interest rate hikes until the Federal Open Market Committee were confident that inflation is on track to hit the inflation target of 2 percent growth.
Downbeat data out of the U.S. is negatively impacting the greenback and on Wednesday, the U.S. dollar traded broadly lower against most major currencies. This came after the new home sales data out of the U.S. missed expectations while comments from the Federal Reserve continued to weigh on market sentiment. According to the Commerce Department in the U.S., new home sales declined to 481,000 units last month, down 0.2 percent. Analysts were only expecting a decline of 1.3% to 475,000. Meanwhile for December, new home sales were revised up from the reported 481,000 units to 482,000 units. In the currency market, the euro remained under pressure as investors remained cautious regarding the recent agreement to extend Greece’s bailout by four months. The EUR/USD traded at 1.1356, up 0.15 percent. Meanwhile, against the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen, the USD traded lower with USD/CHF at 0.9493, down 0.12% while USD/JPY was down 0.08% at 118.86. On the upside was the British pound which rose to a 2-month high with GBP/USD trading at 1.5491, up 0.25%.
Microsoft Corp. (MSFT, -0.23%) is making some big changes and on Wednesday, the company announced that it in the next coming weeks, they would remove Facebook chat and Google from its Outlook.com. In an email sent to all its Outlook customers, Microsoft stated that the decision to remove Google Talk integration is as a result of Google’s failure to continue using the ‘chat protocol used by the Google Talk platform’. Facebook chat will also be bumped from the Outlook product yet no details were provided regarding the reason for the removal of the social network's chat integration. Meanwhile, Microsoft is also currently planning to close two mobile handset manufacturing plants in China. These plants were originally run by Nokia Corp. and as a result, over nine thousand jobs will be cut. When Microsoft originally purchased Nokia’s handset business in April 2014, the company announced their plans to close two plants including the ones located in Dongguan city and Beijing earlier this month. All manufacturing equipment from these plants will then be shipped to Vietnam. This move is expected next month. Also, after Microsoft purchased the Nokia unit for $7.2 billion, they announced that they would make over 18,000 job cuts and the closing of these two plants are part of the company’s layoff plans.
With the battle for market share which is being led by Saudi Arabia, crude oil prices declined in Asian trading on Thursday. WTI crude oil for delivery in April traded at $50.63 a barrel, down 0.71% on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, oil prices advanced after an oil minister from Saudi Arabia reassured markets regarding the global demand. Meanwhile, according to their weekly report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that the oil supply in the country had reached its highest level ever with crude oil inventories rising by 8.4 million barrels last week. Also on Wednesday, Brent oil prices rose to $61.60 a barrel, up 5.01% or $2.94.