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Europe stepped aside for one day to allow China to take the stage and coerce investors to reach for the Pepto Bismol. HSBC issued its preliminary report on Chinese manufacturing activity for September, and the initial readings show it’s set to fall for an eleventh straight month. That’s bad news for metal and manufacturing companies, as well as those who count on China as a prime export partner. For the session, the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC ) ended modestly lower by 0.78 points (0.05%), to 1460.27. Let’s take a closer look at what stocks were most responsible for the seesaw movements of the S&P 500 today.
Companies that helped the S&P 500
Chef Boyardee would be proud! ConAgra Foods (NYSE: CAG ) , the packaged food company behind such names as Marie Callender’s, Hebrew National, Slim Jim, and Chef Boyardee, absolutely crushed Wall Street’s profit forecasts by $0.08 in the first quarter, and ended the day higher by 6%. In addition, ConAgra boosted its annual dividend by 4%, and raised its full-year forecast. ConAgra’s strong results were attributed to growth from its recent acquisitions, as well as strength in its potato business. In the words of the late, great, Randy Savage (former Slim Jim personality), “Oooooh Yeah!”
Oil and natural gas exploration and production company Denbury Resources (NYSE: DNR ) jumped nearly 4%, after striking a deal to sell its Bakken shale assets to ExxonMobil for $1.6 billion. The deal also transfers Exxon’s interests in the Hartzog Draw field in Wyoming and Webster field in Texas, which, as my Foolish colleague Dan Carroll pointed out earlier today, are capable of producing 3,600 barrels of net oil equivalent natural gas and liquids per day. The cash from the deal will facilitate additional oil field purchases for Denbury.
Companies that hindered the S&P 500
Thursday’s “disaster du jour” award goes, without question, to J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) , which ended the day down 11%, after CEO Ron Johnson warned that Penney’s struggles would continue into the second-half of the year. Johnson’s attempt to reinvent the wheel at Penney’s has been a bumpy road, with the company doing away with coupons and sales altogether and alienating some of Penney’s die-hard bargain shoppers. Johnson’s "store within a store" concept that focuses heavily on brand name merchandise could be Penney’s saving grace, but the results have shown otherwise, thus far.
Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC ) , down 9%, derailed the entire railroad sector, after warning that its third-quarter results wouldn’t meet Wall Street’s expectations due to weaker coal shipments and higher fuel surcharges, which lag actual fuel prices by two months. To add insult to injury, Norfolk Southern also expects incremental weakness from its merchandise shipments (i.e. anything not related to metals or resources), which is a macro concern for all shipping and logistics companies.
A new boom in energy?
Exxon’s $1.6 billion purchase from Denbury isn’t the only company in the energy sector making waves. Find out which energy company our analysts at Motley Fool Stock Advisor singled out as the "must own" before 2014, for free, by clicking here to get your copy of this latest special report.