It's a race to the finish line for stocks in February. The markets have seesawed in recent sessions as investors ponder the approaching mandatory cuts in federal spending. Monday the Dow Industrials dropped 219 points only to gain back 116 points yesterday. That leaves the Dow up 0.3 percent for the month with two trading sessions remaining. As I mentioned earlier this week, when the Dow posts gains in both January and February the markets have always finished the year with a profit.
There were no surprises in yesterday's testimony by Ben Bernanke on Capitol Hill. The Fed head stuck with his belief that the massive bond buying program at the core of QE3 will not be inflationary or create a bond bubble. Bernanke was testifying before the Senate Banking Committee yesterday and will return to visit with House members today. Poor guy.
***** The flood of good news on real estate continued this morning. The National Association of Realtors said pending home sales -- signed contracts still in escrow -- rose 4.5 percent in January to the highest level since April 2010. Pending sales were especially strong in the Northeast where pending sales were up 8.2 percent as buyers began to thaw out from a tough winter. Higher pending sales are a sign of future home sales.
***** It should be an interesting meeting today up in Cuppertino where Apple shareholders are gathering for the annual meeting. There are a number of controversial items on the agenda, but none is more interesting than the discussion of what to do with the $13.7 billion in cash the company holds. Investors would like to see the company share some of the wealth and increase the dividend, which was initiated last year. Also, there are rumors the board of directors is considering a possible stock split to make the shares more available to new buyers.
***** Timothy Geithner has stepped aside as Secretary of the Treasury and his replacement could be approved this week. However, a visit to the website for the Department of the Treasury features a list of 75 facts about the 75th Secretary of the Treasury. For instance, did you know "Secretary Geithner is an avid athlete, regularly carving out time for exercise even on hectic overseas trips. He played basketball with Chinese high school students in Beijing and swung a cricket bat in India." Your tax dollars at work.
***** A new survey finds 87 percent of people contacted believe it is never acceptable to cheat on your taxes and only 11 percent agree with the idea that cheating is OK a little. "The overwhelming majority of American taxpayers play by the rules and expect everyone to do the same," said a spokesperson for the survey. I have a hunch the numbers might have been influenced by the source of the survey: the Internal Revenue Service. I wonder how many people would respond with, "Yes, I cheat on my taxes," when the person asking the question works for the IRS. Not many.