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Stock Market Today: Wall Street Reacts to State of the Union Speech – Money Morning

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The stock market today (Wednesday) shrugged off U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in which he urged Congress to take steps to strengthen the economy.

In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 38 points, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 1 and the Nasdaq rose 7.

The tepid reaction to the president’s speech is not unusual. Historically, most presidential addresses move markets by less than 1% the day after a speech, with the average move just 0.15%, according LPL Financial’s Jeff Kleintop.

Whatever the Dow does Wednesday, expect the benchmark to soon hit an all-time high. The index is just 1% off the record 14,165, set in 2007. Since 2009, stocks have soared some 127%, with pullbacks within each month. So it looks like it may be March before we reach a record high, but it’s coming.

A lackluster retail sales report from the Commerce Department didn’t provide any stimulus to the stock market today. U.S. retail sales rose a paltry 0.1% in January as an increase in payroll taxes left consumers with less disposable income.

“The payroll tax increase is having some impact on spending here. It looks like maybe momentum is not necessarily carrying forward into the first quarter,” Jefferies economist Thomas Simons told Bloomberg News.

These Companies in Focus in Stock Market Today

  • General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE): Shares of General Electric rose 3.47% following an announcement from the industrial giant late Tuesday that it will sell its remaining stake (49%) in NBCUniversal to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA) for $16.7 billion. Shares of the cable company jumped more than 8% on the news.

GE also pockets an extra $1.3 billion for NBC’s floors at 30 Rockefeller Center and the CNBC headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. GE will pay about $3.2 billion in taxes on the deal, but it also plans to reward shareholders. CEO Jeffrey Immelt says the company will return $18 billion to shareholders this year through dividends and buybacks.

  • Deere & Co. (NYSE: DE): Deere reported record first-quarter earnings of $650 million, thanks to healthy farm conditions and skillful execution of business plans. Earnings per share climbed 27% to $1.65 a share from $1.30 a year ago. Estimates were for $1.39. The company delivered higher guidance for 2013. Shares were trimmed 2.07% however, falling with the overall market.
  • Groupon Inc. (Nasdaq; GRPN): Daily deals site Groupon got a boost, soaring more than 5% following an upgrade from Sterne Agee to a “Buy” from a “Neutral” with a $9 price target. Groupon has been a disappointment in the months following its initial public offering in November 2011 at $20 a share. After a hearty reception, the stock hit a low of $2.60 and was trading Wednesday at $5.57 a share.
  • Cliff Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE: CLF): Shares of Cliff Natural Resources tumbled 18.71% Wednesday, dragged down by a write-down in the value of a Canadian acquisition, higher costs and lower iron ore prices. Adding to the slide was the miner’s move to slash its dividend 76%.

The Cleveland-based producer of iron ore and metallurgical coal was expected to announce the $2 billion charge, but the dividend reduction was a surprise.

  • Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB): Shares of social networking giant Facebook regained about 1% Wednesday following two days down and two fresh downgrades. BTIG Research joined Sanford C. Bernstein among the firms that have lowered ratings and price targets for Facebook.

BTIG went from a “Neutral” to a “Sell” with a price target of $22. Bernstein went from an “Outperform” to a “Market Perform,” saying the stock price already reflects most of the company’s potential profits.

Shares have struggled since FB’s May IPO at $38, and have yet to reach the offering price since.

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