After Market: China's Exports and Crimea's Crisis Leave Investors Uneasy

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Stocks retreated on Monday due to new concerns about the pace of economic growth in China, and the on-going tensions in Ukraine. The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 34 points, but that was well higher than its worst level of the day. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) lost less than 2 points, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) dropped 1 point.

Chinese exports fell far more than expected last month, putting downward pressure on the stocks of a number of big industrial players. Alcoa (AA) and Freeport McMoRan (FCX) lost more than 2 percent, and Peabody Energy (BTU) fell 3 percent. Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) lost 4 percent. It was also downgraded to 'sell' by Axiom.

Boeing (BA) lost more than 1 percent on news that cracks have been discovered in the wings of some 787s. And General Motors (GM) lost 1½ percent following reports about how difficult and expensive it could be for the company to repair the 1.6 million cars it's recalling.

On the upside, fuel cell stocks remained hot. Plug Power (PLUG) jumped 25 percent. That's on top of last week's 77 percent surge on news of a deal with Walmart (WMT). Over the past year, Plug has gone from 14 cents a share, to more than $10 a share today -- a gain of more than 7,000 percent. And that's helping other players in the industry. Ballard Power (BLDP) soared 30 percent, Hydrogenics (HYGS) up 16 percent and Fuel Cell Energy, up 11 percent.

Merger and spinoff news sent several stocks sharply higher. Some newspaper companies gained on word they're looking to sell the consortium that owns for $3 billion. McClatchy (MNI) jumped 14 percent, A.H. Belo (AHC) rose 5 percent and Gannett (GCI) gained 2 percent.

Chiquita Brands (CQB) gained 10 percent. It's merging with an Irish rival.

Chip-maker Montage Technology (MONT) jumped 20 percent after getting a takeover bid from a Chinese company. And FMC (FMC) rose nearly 7 percent. It's splitting itself into two publicly traded companies.

Finally, Herbalife (HLF) gained 2 percent. The New York Times reports that hedge fund manager Bill Ackman has made extraordinary efforts to prompt federal regulators to investigate Herbalife. Ackman has made a $1 billion bet against the company -– so far, a losing proposition.

What to Watch Tuesday:
  • At 10 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases its survey of job openings and labor turnover for January, and the Commerce Department reports wholesale trade data for January.
These major companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial statements:
  • American Eagle Outfitters (AEO)
  • Caesars Entertainment (CZR)
  • Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS)
-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

8 Zen Tips for Tax Time
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After Market: China's Exports and Crimea's Crisis Leave Investors Uneasy

Don't parse every receipt and monthly bank statement, says Wenli Wang, a partner in the tax practice at Moss Adams in San Francisco. "Do some homework, so you know what is deductible and what is not," she says. "When you understand what is relevant to your tax prep, you’ll have a game plan."

"Clients spend a lot of time chasing small deductions. I tell them not to go crazy documenting $5 here or $10 there. Concentrate on bigger expenses that save the most in taxes," Wang adds. "And don’t spend money on unnecessary expenses just to save on your taxes."

Start with one of the many free checklists available. Here are a few from the IRS, its affiliate, TurboTax, or FreshBooks.

Avoid such audit triggers as running a cash business, claiming large deductions on minimal income, and reporting dependent exemptions for people who may not actually be your dependents for tax purposes, says Ebong Eka, a Washington accountant and author of "Start Me Up: The No-Business-Plan Business Plan."

If you report a business loss year after year, you risk having the IRS declare your company a hobby, says Mark MacLeod, an accountant and chief financial officer for FreshBooks. "Filling in your Schedule C with nice, even, rounded numbers in the hundreds or thousands is another red flag," he adds.

Buy an accounting system that automates your back office tasks, including tracking income and tax-deductible expenses. There are free and low-cost software packages available, too. FreshBooks' MacLeod -- who obviously has a dog in the fight -- advises business owners to steer clear of software that's designed for professional accountants. "If it's too complicated, you won't understand it and then you won’t use it," he says.
Spare your sanity by hiring a professional who will do right by your tax return while you work for your clients or drum up new business. "What is your time worth?" MacLeod asks. "If you're a graphic designer charging $100 an hour or more, do you want to spend hours on taxes?"

Running late and wilting under the pressure? "File an extension," Berger advises. "If you wait until the last minute, you'll make a lot of mistakes and you could miss the deadline anyway."

If you owe money, pay up. Or at least pay part of your liability and get on a payment plan for the rest. "Clients worry about owing money they don't have. But it's important to file your return on time, or file an extension at least," Berger says. Putting it off will only result in fines and penalties down the line -- not a prospect that invites much in the way of zen.

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