U.S. STOCK INDEXES
GENERAL STOCK MARKET COMMENT: The U.S. stock indexes closed firmer today. Bulls still have the solid overall near-term technical advantage. U.S. economic data released Thursday included the weekly jobless claims report, the Challenger job cuts report, manufacturers' shipments and inventories, and ICSC chain store sales trends. Taken together, this data once again favored the weak side of market expectations. It begs the question: Will Friday's all- important U.S. jobs report also favor the weak side? It would hint that the Federal Reserve may not be as aggressive in winding down its quantitative easing programs in the coming months. The forecast is for the key non-farm payrolls figure of the jobs data to come in at up 150,000 in February. Any reading that deviates significantly from that forecast is likely to move the markets. In recent weeks, U.S. economic data has mostly missed the pre-report forecasts and have been on the weak side of those forecasts. The situation in Ukraine has for now changed from a serious geopolitical matter to more of a regional issue of lesser significance—from a market place perspective. This has been bullish for world stock markets and bearish for safe-haven gold, the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasuries.