Updated from 6:32 a.m. EST
NEW YORK (
) -- Uncertainty certainly looms in the minds of investors at the start of a new trading week.
Will events out of China or Europe roil the markets as traders in the U.S. get back to work for a holiday-shortened week? Will economic indicators, such as housing or inflation data, make investors jittery? Will earnings from companies such as drug giant
or tech bellwether
lift spirits or will a sales report from
dash any hopes for a market rally?
It's questions like these, and scores similar, that have investors pretty much undecided on the direction the stock market might take this week. Our sentiment survey indicates folks just aren't convinced they know which way the wind will blow.
As of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, survey-takers who were bullish totaled 41.7%, or 575 of the 1,379 votes cast in the TheStreet.com's RealMoney Barometer Poll. Those who were bearish tallied 42.9%, or 592 of the votes cast, while 15.4%, or 212 participants in the poll were neutral. That's a change from past weeks when the survey offered a clear bullish or bearish sentiment.
However, poll participants are clear on what sectors are likely to rise or fall this week. Precious metals, by a wide margin, was chosen as the sector most likely to post gains, while commercial banks, overwhelmingly, was picked as the sector most likely to fall.
Gold prices for April delivery, the most active contract, were higher early Monday trading up $27.30 to $1,117.30 an ounce after falling Friday as the dollar strengthened and China, for a second time this year, raised its reserve-requirement ratio for banks.
Stocks in the U.S. didn't take kindly to the move by China, with the
Dow Jones Industrial Average
closing down 0.4% on Friday to 10,099, while the
fell slightly to 1076.
bucked the trend, however, gaining 0.3% to 2184 on Friday. For the week, the Dow rose 0.9%, the S&P 500 gained 0.9% and Nasdaq posted a 2% gain. U.S. markets were closed Monday for Presidents' Day.
Banks fell Friday, with
Bank of America
down 1.2% and
Premarket futures suggested U.S. stocks would open higher on Wall Street Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in corporate news, U.K. bank
reported full-year earnings of 9.39 billion pounds ($14.76) billion, higher than year-earlier earnings of 4.38 billion pounds and above analysts' estimates.
, meanwhile, was reportedly close to buying
RBS Sempra Commodities
for $1.7 billion.
> > Bull or Bear? Vote in Our Poll
The poll closed at 9:15 a.m.
On Tuesday in Asia, stocks in Tokyo rose. Markets in Hong Kong and China were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.
As of 9:15 a.m. Monday, Britain's FTSE 100 was higher by 1% and Germany's DAX gained 0.7%. Paris' CAC-40 was posting gains of 0.5%.
Here is a wrap-up of our other polls:
Capesize ships -- the type of dry-bulk carrier so-called because their sheer enormity forces them, too big for any canal's locks, to circumnavigate Capes Horn and Good Hope -- are the most lucrative vessels plying the seas.
But the balance of power between ship owner and charterer may have tilted lately in the buyers' direction. Rates fell off sharply in the second half January, dipping below $30,000 a day for a capesize voyage on the spot market, and market players have struggled to provide reasons for the sudden weakness.
Still, plenty of shipping analysts have made bullish calls for 2010, predicting capesize rates of around $40,000 a day on average for the year. The more bearish on the sell side think cape rates could fall below $20,000 on average for the year. According to Friday trading in the shipping derivatives known as forward-freight agreements, or FFAs, the market (which includes ship owners, who use FFAs as hedges) is now projecting rates of $32,000 to $33,000 a day on average for the second quarter -- down from the $35,000 last week.
Anything below $20,000 a day and investors start to worry about whether any profit at all will fall to the bottom line of these companies --
including the five we've highlighted
in our fourth-quarter look-back/first-quarter preview:
Genco Shipping & Trading
Navios Maritime Holdings
But what does
audience of shipping enthusiasts think about the matter?
, they're on the bullish side: nearly 63% of the survey's participants chose the safe middle path, selecting the $30,000 to $40,000 target range as the most likely average capesize rate for the first part of 2010.
Based on the majority vote of
users, it seems that
quest to keep or find another $100 million-a-year job when his contract with
is up this year is going nowhere.
In a previous poll,
"shock jock" Stern this much money again to get him to stay because the company is strong enough to stand on its own through diverse programming.
And now, they're saying that
when Simon Cowell leaves to launch
The X Factor.
The readers of
apparently believe anointing Stern as an
judge would alienate the show's core audience -- and be to the detriment of both Fox and News Corp. That view is shared by the Parents Television Council, which declared last week that Stern would spell the "immediate death" of the show.
Likewise, the consensus among
readers was fairly strong that Stern would alienate core audiences and be bad news for News Corp. shareholders. A full 74.1% of the voters felt that way. The remaining 25.9% believed, however, that Stern would be a windfall for Fox, News Corp. and
One gets the increasing sense that we'll never live to learn if that one quarter of our respondents was right.
It has been a busy week for
The first week of February had been a bit of a downer for the Oracle of Omaha, as
Berkshire Hathaway lost its last remaining AAA rating.
However, by Tuesday of this past week, Buffett had recovered, even mustering the good cheer to play the capital markets equivalent of Oprah, sitting down for a video one-on-one chat with former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson that covered topics from TARP to bonuses and, of course, plugging Paulson's new book on the financial crisis,
On the Brink
Indeed, there has been so much Berkshire Hathaway news of late, from the
inclusion to the related stock split in the Berkshire Hathaway B shares and the related acquisition of
from which it all stems, that Buffett burnout is not hard to imagine among readers -- and even some not-to-be-named financial journalists.
On Friday, at the tender age of 80, Buffett reminded the markets of what a force he continues to be
as Berkshire Hathaway revealed in a regulatory filing that it had become the
largest shareholder in reinsurer Munich Re. Berkshire's 5% stake supplanted money manager
from the top spot among Munich Re shareholders. Berkshire Hathaway also owns the rights to an additional 2% in Munich Re options, which can bring its stake up to 7% by mid-March.
In the spirit of Buffett's staying power and shrewdness, and as Berkshire Hathaway moves ever-closer to closing its deal for Burlington Northern, we asked readers of
, "Do you think Buffett is done making 'all-in wagers' after Burlington? Or does his M&A sweet tooth still crave M&Ms?"
The survey respondents think Buffett does have a sweet spot for Mars. Approximately 54% of poll voters believe Berkshire Hathaway will eventually acquire Mars. Long-time Berkshire investors have said the deal could make sense from both sides.
Rumors of the impending death of the dogs of the U.S. solar industry are greatly exaggerated, a new poll of
For the armies of the solar righteous, already convinced that
coverage of the solar sector amounts to no more than a cog in a grand conspiracy to short the entire solar sector -- a conspiracy that involves big oil, coal states, hedge funds, maybe even Scientology -- the new poll result should come as no surprise.
alleged short positions in
Energy Conversion Devices
-- as well as short positions in any solar share about which we ever write anything that is not simply regurgitating a solar press release or re-writing a bullish analyst report -- are doomed to implode as Energy Conversion Devices and Evergreen Solar recover from weak earnings and amidst serious business challenges.
Taking both the bullish and the bearish outlooks into account, we asked
solar savvy readership:
Should solar investors be banking on either Evergreen Solar or Energy Conversion Devices after their recent bleak earnings?
About 54% of poll respondents say that Energy Conversion Devices and Evergreen Solar will execute on strategies -- maybe the above-mentioned, specifically -- and succeed against a chorus of naysayers.
CEO Vikram Pandit was named this week as the corporate leader
would most like to see on
new reality show
The concept of
is simple: Executives take entry-level positions at their own companies to see where improvements can be made.
The pilot episode of
, which aired last weekend after the Super Bowl, featured
President and Chief Operating Officer Larry O'Donnell. Waste Management is the largest garbage-collection company and landfill operator in the United Sates. Thus, in the episode, O'Donnell cleaned porta-potties, sorted waste at a recycling plant and collected garbage from a landfill.
Other executives slated to make appearances on
owner Dave Rife,
CEO Coby Brooks,
President and CEO Joseph DePinto and
CEO William Carstanjen.
The question was also rather simple for a strong plurality of our readers: In
weekly poll, an overwhelming 49.5% of voters said it would be most entertaining to watch Pandit take to the bottom ranks.
J.P. Morgan Chase's
Jamie Dimon placed second, with 16.7% of voters wanting to watch him on the show.
Do you think ex-Merrill CEO John Thain can actually turn around
, now that he's been named CIT's new leader? A majority -- albeit in slim majority -- of readers of
Thain was named the new leader of CIT earlier this week. CIT, which is the largest lender to supermarkets and apparel retailers, recently pulled itself out of bankruptcy protection. The firm was forced into bankruptcy at the end of last year when it was unsuccessful at restructuring its debt.
At the time, CIT received $2.3 billion from the Treasury Department.
CIT was able to emerge from bankruptcy in just six weeks because its key bondholders had already approved a reorganization plan. The company was able to cut its debt by $10.5 billion and deferred debt maturities for three years.
Since then, CIT has begun lending again, committing to fund $500 million in new government-guaranteed loans to small business customers. But CIT's image is still badly tranished, leaving Thain with a challenge in terms of repairing the markets' skeptical view of the company.
In our weekly poll, 55.2% of the respondents said Thain would be able to mend the fragile company. This might comes as a surprise to many, as Thain has his own tarnished image to repair.
-- Written by Joseph Woelfel and Ty Wenger in New York.