In the blink of an eye, yesterday's poor ADP private-sector jobs report was erased, and investors replaced pessimism with abundant optimism. Leading the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) to another record-closing high was a combination of strong jobless claims data domestically, and a rate cut from the European Central Bank.
Weekly jobless claims may have stolen the show today with initial jobless claims falling 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 324,000 last week – a five-year low. Falling jobless claims would be a good indicator of an improving economy, as it could signal that unemployed people are beginning to find jobs.
In Europe, the ECB cut its target lending rate by 25 basis points to a record low 0.5%, as inflation remains well under control, but unemployment levels continue to rise. A lowered target rate is encouraging as it should spur business to borrow money at incredibly low rates and reinvest that money, likely creating jobs in the process.
Digesting today's positive news, the S&P 500 rose 14.89 points (0.94%) to finish at 1,597.59, a new record high by 0.02 points!
Today's top performer within the S&P 500 was audio products maker Harman International (NYSE: HAR ) , which rose 8.2% after easily trumping Wall Street's expectations with its third-quarter results. Although Harman's quarterly revenue declined 3%, to $1.06 billion, because of weakness in its Western Europe operations, its adjusted EPS of $0.79 handily crushed the $0.61 EPS projection of analysts. The company also boosted its EPS outlook for the year to $3.00 from a previous range of $2.70-$2.90, and sees revenue at the high end of its previous outlook of $4.18 billion to $4.25 billion. While this is definitely great news for shareholders, with little revenue growth expected this year and a P/E of nearly 16 based on its own forecast, I'd pass at these levels.
Hard-disk drive maker Seagate Technologies (NASDAQ: STX ) jumped 7.3% after also reporting Street-topping quarterly results yesterday. In the third-quarter, Seagate delivered an adjusted profit of $1.26 per share despite a 21% drop in revenue, to $3.5 billion, from the year-ago period. Still, this was more than enough to top Wall Street's expectation of just $1.15 in EPS, and caused brokerage firm Needham & Co. to upgrade Seagate to "buy," with a $45 price target. Given Seagate's unique position in handling the growing storage demands of the cloud-computing transition, I see a good chance for the share price to head even higher than Needham's target.
Finally, to round out the theme of earnings-based pops, insurance and investment management firm Prudential (NYSE: PRU ) popped 7% after reporting its first-quarter results. Aside from a slew of one-time charges related to foreign currency translations and investment losses, Prudential reported an adjusted EPS profit of $2.28, as revenue increased 13%, to $11.83 billion. The Street expected only a $1.87 per-share profit, but had been looking for $12.4 billion in revenue. Prudential noted that all of its operating segments demonstrated growth during the quarter, and it ended with $1.06 trillion in assets under management. The charges were certainly an unwelcome surprise, but Prudential, at seven times forward earnings, still looks incredibly cheap.
Is this the ultimate value play or a well disguised value trap?
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