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Stocks settled the first session of the new week in mixed fashion after starting on a soft note. Tech helped improve the tone of trade.
Overseas markets moved lower overnight and early this morning. Their losses came in conjunction with a drop in China's trade balance to $13.1 billion in December from $22.9 billion in the prior month and persistent speculation about the possibility of additional bailouts in and around the eurozone.
There was no domestic data this morning. Headlines related to merger and acquisition activity comprised most of the corporate news, but the broader market was generally unenthused about the deal making. Still, Playboy (PLA 6.09, +0.89) got a nice pop after it was learned that the company will be taken private for $6.15 per share. Duke Energy (DUK 17.58, -0.21) announced plans to acquire Progress Energy (PGN 43.99, -0.73) in a stock transaction that values PGN at $46.48 per share, a premium of about 4% over PGN's closing price last week.
Education providers were hit with some of the hardest selling this session. The group gave up more than 7% after Strayer Education (STRA 118.60, -34.64) trimmed expectations for 2011 on Friday after trade had closed for the weekend.
Tech stocks had a choppy start, but a bid for semiconductors (+1.0%) helped the group recover. The sector's gradual grind higher helped push the Nasdaq Composite into positive territory for a modest gain and gave the Nasdaq 100 a 0.3% gain.
An improved tone among traders helped volatility cool after the Volatility Index (VIX) had spiked almost 9% to come within reach of its 50-day moving average and set its highest level in a month.
Oil prices ended 1.4% higher at $89.25 per barrel. Prices were helped by news that the Trans Alaska Pipeline, which carries close to 15% of the United State's oil output, was closed for a leak. The pipeline is partly owned by BP (BP 46.03, -0.05), Exxon Mobil (XOM 75.15, -0.44), ConocoPhillips (COP 66.88, -0.23), and Chevron (CVX 90.41, -0.78).
Earnings season unofficially gets under way with this evening's report from Dow component Alcoa (AA 16.49, +0.07). Reports really don't pick up in earnest until next week, though.
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