A day after the triple-digit rally, Wall Street paused for a breather as investors decided to book profits on a light trading day.  The markets opened lower and then swung between gains and losses amid prevailing caution after a series of disappointing results.  The Dow, nevertheless, managed to tack on 20 points for its fifth straight session gain.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index shed 0.01%, to 1,093.01 and the technology-laden Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 2.98 points, or 0.14%, to close at 2,151.08.  On the New York Stock Exchange, three stocks declined in price for every two that rose.  Volume was light as only 990 million shares exchanged hands.

Record low interest rates and a sliding dollar have helped stocks in recent months as investors have taken their focus away from some of the persistent worries of the economy.  Also, with the Federal Reserve continuing its highly accommodative monetary stance and the G20 finance ministers pledging to keep economic stimulus in place, risk appetites have received a boost lately. 

Of the $81 billion in Treasury auction scheduled for this week, yesterday’s $25 billion sale of 10-year notes witnessed decent demand, following robust demand for the $40 billion in 3-year notes on Monday. Bond markets are closed today for Veterans Day.

Shipping company FedEx Corp. (FDX) yesterday said it expects to ship more than 13 million packages on December 14, its busiest shipping day of the year.  United Parcel Service Inc (NYSE:UPS) said it sees growth in its volumes next year as the global economy recovers.  American Express (NYSE:AXP) said cardholder spending grew in October, with billing up 3%.

Meanwhile, Bank of America’s (NYSE:BAC) Ken Lewis noted his firm is “keeping its head above water” this year.  Bob Toll of Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) noted, “Home buyers began to emerge from their bunkers in late March 2009 and the market continued to gain momentum up to Labor Day.  Since then demand has been volatile. This may be due in part to typical seasonality, but the more likely cause is concern about unemployment and the overall economy.”

A number of Fed speakers yesterday sung the tone of caution, while mostly agreeing on the fragility of the economic recovery.  Both Lockhart and Yellen warned unemployment rate may remain high for the next several years.  Rosengren warned that with high unemployment levels, the US economy is not yet in a position to warrant exit strategies.  This morning Treasury Secretary Geithner reiterated the importance of the dollar strength for the health of the US economy.

Zacks Investment Research