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Midday Market Update

Stocks Mostly Lower

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U.S. Market    
Stocks wavered during early hours but fell lower at midday. 

The markets were focusing on the confirmation hearings for Mary Jo White, President Obama's nominee to head the SEC. Among other things, White commented that if confirmed, she intended to push for an overhaul of the money market fund industry. Separately, Obama also expressed slight optimism for a U.S.-European Union trade agreement which could spark further economic growth. 

Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported a gain in U.S. job openings in January to 3.69 million from December's mark of 3.61 million. Openings were 8% higher year over year. According to the data, the job seeker/job opening ratio decreased slightly from December's reading, but overall openings are still lower than prerecession levels. 

Redbook Research and the International Council of Shopping Centers each reported a gain in early-March retail sales. 

The Dow was flat at midday, but the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were 0.2% and 0.5% lower. 

Stocks on the Move
After getting hit heavily in the past week,  J.C. Penney (JCP) shares were 4.3% higher as rumors surfaced that CEO Ron Johnson is resigning from his post. However, the firm has stated those rumors are false

 Costco Wholesale (COST) posted a 39% gain in second-quarter profit, which came in at $547 million compared with $394 million reported a year ago. The firm's results were lifted by a tax benefit. Revenue rose by 8.3% but was still lower than Wall Street expectations, though earnings per share beat estimates. Shares were 1.9% higher at midday. The firm remains the  top pick in Morningstar's retail defensive coverage sector. 

Late Monday,  Yum Brands (YUM) reported a 20% decline in its first-quarter same-store sales for its restaurants in China, a key growth region for the firm. Although Yum had previously warned of a 25% drop in China, on the heels of a chicken-supply controversy, investors cheered that the results were not as bad as expected. Yum's February same-store sales also improved. Shares pulled back from their early jump but were still 1.8% higher at midday. 

Foreign Markets
Asian stocks lost ground Tuesday, with the Shanghai Composite losing 1.0%, and the Hang Seng falling by 0.9%. The Nikkei 225 was down by 0.3%. 

Stocks in Europe were mixed. The Paris CAC and the FTSE 100 each gained 0.3%. The DAX was 0.1% lower. 

Kevin O'Shaughnessy does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.