It wasn't the kind of pop that optimists had hoped for, but better-than-expected U.S. retail sales figures proved enough to get the market back on the right track today.
U.S. retail sales came in up 1.1% from January, well ahead of the 0.5% gain that Wall Street had been looking for. Compounded with a better-than-expected jobs report, the economy is beginning to look like it's turning around and would support this extensive rally. However, to play the other side of the coin, it is worth noting that both restaurant sales and home furnishings fell during this latest U.S. retail sales report -- an uncanny sign of things to come, with payroll taxes taking a bite out of most people's paychecks.
For the day, the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) finished higher by 2.04 points (0.13%) to close at 1,554.52.
Today's biggest gainer was content-streaming kingpin Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) , which rose more than $10, or 5.6%, after announcing a U.S. sharing collaboration with Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) . The two companies already have a partnership internationally, whereby Netflix users can see what their friends have been watching. Netflix is now (finally) bringing that collaboration to the U.S. Obviously, this could be a positive for both parties as it drives cheap, friend-based advertising, increases time spent on Facebook, and should give both parties a better understanding of consumer viewing habits. However, my personal opinion of Netflix -- that it is completely overvalued -- remains unchanged by today's news.
Following Netflix higher was office supply store Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS ) , which roared higher by 4.3% after MacRumors posted an internal document from the company that would indicate it may begin carrying the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computer lines. Electronic items definitely don't carry the margin they once did, but Apple products have an allure by themselves that's enough to draw traffic into a store. If Staples can capitalize on displaced customers from the Office Depot buyout of OfficeMax, as well as work in better foot traffic from its new Apple products, this turnaround could be even more impressive than Best Buy's has been lately.
Finally, drugstore Walgreen (NYSE: WAG ) ascended 4.2% after analyst Steven Valiquette at UBS boosted his rating on the company from neutral to buy. Valiquette cited numerous catalysts, including the impending health-care overhaul that will bring in millions of newly insured persons, as well as its disciplined loyalty card program, which hasn't eaten into margins as some had anticipated. Although I rarely like to put much credence in analyst actions, this is one I wholeheartedly agree with. Walgreen is primed for big benefits from Obamacare and it still appears inexpensive, even now.
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