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Stock Market Report For Week Ended January 23, 2015

Stocks move back into positive territory for the month

Stocks broke a string of three weekly declines and ended solidly higher, but positive news from overseas appeared to drive much of the gains. After being closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, markets gathered momentum throughout most of the week. Declines in materials and telecoms stocks weighed on the large-cap Standard & Poor's 500 Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average late Friday, however. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite ended the week on a strong note, helping it outperform the other benchmarks. The small-cap Russell 2000 Index lagged and remained firmly in negative territory for the year to date. Despite their underperformance against larger-cap companies in 2014, small-caps could continue to underperform, as valuations for the asset class remain near historic highs, says Small-Cap Stock Fund Manager Greg McCrickard.

ECB's QE plans drive shift in sentiment...

Even as earnings reporting season was in full swing, investor sentiment appeared to be driven in large part by macroeconomic concerns, and not even domestic ones. Reports that the European Central Bank (ECB) might announce a large quantitative easing (QE) program—buying long-term bonds in order to lower borrowing costs and spur growth and inflation—seemed to foster improved sentiment early in the week. U.S. and other global markets rallied on Thursday, when the ECB announced a program that was in fact much larger than what many investors had anticipated. T. Rowe Price's London-based sovereign credit analysts note that while the size of the program is roughly in line with the Fed's recent QE efforts, it should have a larger effect on the European bond market given the smaller amount of bonds available.

...but also drives up dollar, threatening overseas profits for U.S. multinationals

T. Rowe Price analysts also expect the program to have a significant effect on the value of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar. Indeed, following the announcement, the dollar reached its highest level against a basket of other currencies since late 2003. While the strong dollar has some positive effects for the U.S. economy, it also threatens the profits of U.S. businesses earning revenues overseas.

Earnings down for financial sector, but individual opportunities remain

Threats to overseas revenues and declining oil prices have already weighed considerably on earnings expectations. Analytical and database firm FactSet now estimates that overall earnings for the S&P 500 will grow by only 0.25% in the fourth quarter of 2014. Profit expectations have declined significantly for financials firms, along with energy companies. Some better-than-expected bank earnings reported Thursday helped fuel the market's rally, however.


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