Oil Stocks Turn Around, Adding Spark to Middling Session

It looks like someone in the oil arena thinks OPEC won't increase production very much, as oil service stocks have spiked.
Author:
Publish date:

The tourists lined up near the corner of Wall and Broad have had an unexpected treat today: An unusually large herd of traders are sunning themselves on the curb outside the New York Stock Exchange. Though some expressed disappointment that feeding the traders is not allowed, most accept that any variation in the typical floor-broker diet of coffee and cigarettes and egg sandwiches from Champ's could have disastrous consequences for capital markets around the world.

These occasional lulls in the action are not unwelcome. With the

Fed

meeting over and first-quarter earnings still a while off, the market is getting a chance to digest recent gains. Stocks kept to a tight range through the first half of the day, with oil-related stocks providing one of the few points of interest.

The oil sector was bouncing back at midsession, in a move indicating that the market expects lower production increases from

OPEC

than had been thought. There had been talk that OPEC, which is meeting today in Vienna, would increase production over its current quotas by around 1.7 million barrels a day -- a bit more than the market expected.

But around 12:30 p.m. EST, oil service stocks spiked higher and integrated oil stocks moved toward break-even, suggesting that the market expects exploration activity to increase. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Index

was up 2.3%, while the

American Stock Exchange Oil & Gas Index

was off just 0.4%. The May oil futures contract off by 14 cents to $27.88 a barrel, having come up from lower levels.

Elsewhere, though, traders saw little to grab their attention.

"I'm not seeing anything making me jump in to buy or sell anything," said Sam Ginzburg, senior managing director of equity trading at

Gruntal

. "I'm kind of waiting for something to do rather than trying to make something happen. Hands are in the pockets."

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

lately was off 48 to 11,065.

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

, down on disappointment that it didn't broker a deal with the

Justice Department

over the weekend, and

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

, giving back some of its recent gains, were jointly taking 53 points out of the Dow.

The broader

S&P 500

was near the flat line, off 2 to 1526.

Tech stocks were doing well. The

Nasdaq Composite Index

was up 31, or 0.6%, to 4994, while the

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter High Tech Index

was up 19, or 1.7%, to 1169.

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index was off 2 1/2, or 0.2%, to 1270.

The small-cap

Russell 2000

was up less than a point to 575.

Bank and consumer cyclical stocks were all giving back some of their recent run-ups today, with the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange/KBW Bank Index

down 2.4% and the

Morgan Stanley Consumer Index

off 1.2%. Some people are beginning to wonder whether the apparent shift into Old Economy names will have any staying power.

"I'm very intrigued by the sector rotation we've had in the last few weeks," said

Merrill Lynch

chief investment strategist David Bowers. "One of the questions you need to ask is, is this a meaningful change or not?"

By Bowers' reckoning, such a shift comes at a strange time. The world and U.S. economies have yet to peak out, and the recent Fed hikes have yet to bite into demand. "The bottom line," he said, "is the rotation of the last few weeks -- we're not convinced it's the start of an change in emphasis."

Market Internals

New York Stock Exchange:

1,282 advancers, 1,528 decliners, 517 million shares. 68 new 52-week highs, 30 new lows.

Nasdaq Stock Market:

1,916 advancers, 2,104 decliners, 822 million shares. 93 new highs, 43 new lows.

For a look at stocks in the midsession news, see Midday Movers, published separately.