Consumer Confidence hits five year low sending dollar down against rivals

Alternately up and down since the opening bell, the major stock indices closed mixed after the Conference Board reported U.S. consumers' confidence fell in March. Other than that, a couple of other weak batch of economic reports took its toll on the market. Strong forecast from Monsanto was also overlooked. Six of the ten major economic sectors finished in positive territory. Materials posted the largest gain.

In the mornings session, the Dow was down by more than 100 points. At the end, The Dow Jones industrial Average ended the day with a loss of 16 points at 12,532. The Nasdaq Composite Index, finished higher by 14.3 points at 2,341. S&P 500 finished higher by 3.1 points at 1,353.

Seventeen out of thirty Dow stocks ended in the red today. Home Depot and Bank of America led the group of Dow losers.

The day started with some weak batch of economic data. The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index for March hit a 5-year low at 64.5 and checked in well below the market's expectation for a reading of 73.5. Confidence had dropped seven of the last eight months, and is down 42% since last July.

Also, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which measures prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas, declined 10.7% on a y-o-y basis, the largest drop on record since the measurement began in 2001.

On the positive side, shares of Monsanto gained almost 10% after the St. Louis company lifted its projected earnings for 2008.

The tech sector got a lift today after Yahoo! was upgraded to Buy from Hold at Citigroup.

All Indian ADRs ended in green today. HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank were the two topmost gainers. The two ADRs gained 2.6% and 5.7% respectively today.

Crude prices ended modestly higher today as the dollar slumped. Traders also speculated that tomorrow's inventory report by Energy Department will show rise in gasoline and crude inventories. Crude-oil futures for light sweet crude for May delivery closed at $101.22/barrel (higher by $0.36/barrel or 0.4%) on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices earlier dropped to $99.3. Crude prices are 65% higher on a yearly basis.

In the currency market today, the euro traded as high as $1.5619 after a report showed consumer confidence in the U.S. fell more than forecast this month, fueling speculation that the Federal Reserve will have to cut its target bank-lending rate by as much as 50 basis points next month to revive economic growth. The dollar index, which tracks the value of the greenback against a basket of other currencies, fell 0.8% to 72.27.

Volume on the New York Stock Exchange topped 4 billion, and advancing stocks outran those declining nearly 2 to 1. On the Nasdaq, nearly 2.1 billion shares were exchanged, and advancing stocks topped those declining 9 to 5.

Tomorrow, February's Durable Goods Orders are due prior to the opening bell. February's New Home Sales data and the weekly oil inventory report are due after the market opens.