In U.S. trading on Thursday, small-cap companies outperformed large firms. This came as a result of a major decline in oil prices which put selling pressure on the energy sector as well as a result of downbeat economic reports. The Russell 2000 (RUT, +0.32%), which is an index that measures the performance of small-cap companies, scored its eighth record close this year and added 0.3%, or 3.9 points, to 1,239.00. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) traded lower away from the record it reached on Wednesday, closing off 10.15 points at 18,214.42. Also on the downside was the S&P 500 (SPX) which declined 0.2%, or 3.12 points, at 2,110.74. Six of the benchmark index’s 10 main sectors finished with losses. Breaking the downward trend was the Nasdaq Composite index (COMP) which advanced 0.4%, or 20.75 points, to 4,987.89. This tech-heavy index was only 12 points away from 5,000. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) also reversed early losses on Thursday in midday trading, after it extended an invitation to the media to attend an event on March 9th. It has been widely speculated that Apple could announce the release date of its new iWatch smartwatch at the event. Apple closed the day up 1.26% or 1.62 points to 130.41.
USD Index Reaches 3-Week High
In currency trading on Thursday, the U.S. dollar index soared more than 1% to a three-week high. This came after the release of economic data that sent the greenback higher against most major currencies. The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six other major currencies, rose 1.20 percent, or 1.12 points, to trade at 95.37. In economic news, data showed that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell 0.7% in January. This was above estimates of a 0.6% decline. This drop in inflation marked the largest decline since December 2008. Elsewhere, the U.S. Department of Commerce said that the total durable goods orders for the month increased 2.8 percent. This was above forecasts of a 1.7% increase. Also, core durable goods orders, excluding volatile transportation items, edged up 0.3 percent. In their weekly report, the U.S. Department of Labor also reported that the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits in the week ending February 21 increased by 31,000 to 313,000 from the prior week’s revised total of 282,000. In currency trading, the euro traded lower with EUR/USD at 1.1186, down 1.54 percent. The euro is currently down more than 18% against the dollar from its value last year at this time. Also, against the Japanese yen, the USD traded higher with USD/JPY at 119.49, up 0.50%. Meanwhile, GBP/USD fell 0.80% to 1.5404 and AUD/USD dropped nearly 1.0% to 0.7809. This came one day after the AUD reached a monthly high.
NYMEX Crude Higher on Demand Growth
In early Asian trading on Friday, crude oil prices gained. This came after data out of Japan showed solid growth in industrial output which signaled demand growth for the major oil importer. In a report, data showed that the national core CPI in Japan rose 2.2 percent. This was below the 2.3% year-on-year for January expected. Also, the unemployment rate in January ticked up to 3.6%, compared to an expected steady rate of 3.4% while household spending fell 5.1% in January year-on-year. Industrial production month-on-month jumped 4.0%, well above an expected gain of 2.7% and retail sales fell 2.0%, compared to a forecast of down 1.3% year-on-year. As a result, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil for April delivery jumped 1.55% to $48.92 a barrel. Meanwhile, on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) on Thursday, Brent crude for April delivery fell 1.78% or 1.10 points to $60.53 a barrel. The drop reversed a previous gain on Wednesday when Brent neared $62 a barrel.
In the Spotlight –Which Were the 5 Most Shorted Nasdaq Stocks in February?
February is coming to a close and there was no change in the ranking of the most heavily shorted stocks traded on the Nasdaq in early February. These included Sirius XM Holdings Inc., Frontier Communications Corp., Micro Devices Inc., Intel Corp. and Comcast Corp. Frontier Communications and Advanced Micro Devices both saw significant drops in the number of shares short between the January 30 and February 13 settlement dates. The top four also had more than 100,000 shares short at the end of the period.
- Sirius XM Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: SIRI) – Early in February, the number of shares short increased by around 22.52 million to more than 151.80 million. This was 6.5 percent of the total float yet still less than half the 52-week peak short interest from last June. At the current average daily volume, it would still take about five days to cover all short positions. In early February, the company posted record earnings and short sellers watched the share price rise nearly 10% at one point during the two weeks between settlement dates. On Wednesday, shares closed at $3.88.
- Frontier Communications Corp. (NASDAQ: FTR) – The short interest in Frontier declined by 10 percent from the previous period to around 132.31 million shares, or 13.3% of the telecom’s float. That was the smallest number of shares short in the past year. Frontier also caught an upgrade from Citigroup during the short interest period, and shares advanced more than 24%, yet they have pulled back more than 5% since. Shares closed on Wednesday at $7.95.
- Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) – A 3.3% rise in short interest brought Intel to more than 131.69 million shares short at the end of the period. That totaled 2.7% of the company’s float, and it ended sixth straight periods of falling short interest. The days to cover increased to almost six. Intel shares gained about 4 percent, in the short interest period, compared to about 5% for the S&P 500. The stock is now down about more than 6% year-to-date and closed most recently at $33.94.
- Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NASDAQ: AMD) – This company had more than 104.17 million shares short by mid-month, down 17.8% from the previous settlement date. The most recent reading totaled 16.5% of the company’s float, and the days to cover was more than four. AMD has recently been seen as a possible buyout candidate, and the share price ended the two weeks more than 22% higher. The stock closed at $3.10 Wednesday, or up about 16% year-to-date.
- Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) – The number of shares short slipped by about 1.3% in a period. The approximately 99.76 million shares short as of February 13 represented 4.6 percent of the float. That was the first period of short interest of less than 100 million shares since last September. It would take about seven days to cover all short positions. On Wednesday, shares of Comcast closed at $59.62.