All the king's horses, and all the king's men, couldn't instill confidence in the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) again -- at least for today, that is!
As has been the case over the past couple of weeks, concerns about what the Federal Reserve's next move will be with regard to its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases has investors worried. These bonds have helped keep interest rates low and have helped to stabilize the mortgage-backed-securities market, which is partially responsible for giving the housing sector new life. When this bond-buying program tapers off, fears exist that lending rates will rise and that housing-sector growth will stall.
It also didn't help that the Fed's release of its Beige Book midday pointed to inconclusive next moves. The U.S. economy grew at a modest pace since mid-April, which would lend credence to the notion that the recovery is still on track. However, hiring was more tempered than expected, meaning further stimulus may be warranted.
All in all, a confusing day of speculation and economic data clustered together to create a fantastic session -- if you're a bear! The S&P 500 fell by 22.48 points (-1.38%) to finish at 1,608.90 and is now off nearly 4% from its all-time record close set a little more than two weeks ago. In spite of today's carnage, three companies still managed to step up to the plate and head higher.
Leading the charge higher, up 6.6%, was network equipment provider Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR ) whose CEO, Kevin Johnson, commented that he expects a rising trend of capital expenditures for service providers at a conference hosted by Bank of America. Don't say I didn't tell you this, because the signs have been evident for a while that networking equipment, fiber, switching, adapter providers, et al., were poised to benefit from AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile as they play catch-up to Verizon's 4G LTE network. Increased capital spending for these companies takes time to work its way down the chain, but it's about to create the next in a series of infrastructure booms, of which Juniper looks ripe to reap the rewards.
Discount retailer Dollar General (NYSE: DG ) rebounded 3.2% after having a miserable Tuesday, which saw the company lower the top end of its full-year EPS forecast from a range of $3.15-$3.30 to a range of $3.15-$3.22 on revenue growth of 10%-11% (from a previous forecast of 10%-12%). It might seem counterintuitive to think that Dollar General, a store that specializes in deep discounts, would have any sort of trouble attracting customers in this environment, but delayed tax refunds and higher payroll taxes are putting off the discretionary higher-margin purchases that even dollar stores like Dollar General count on to drive margin growth. This is the same problem retail chain Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) encountered in its most recent quarter, where same-store sales fell 1.4%. Consumers want a good deal, but they simply don't have the cash to purchase discretionary items. That could be a recipe for volatile results for both Dollar General and Wal-Mart over the next couple of quarters.
Finally, home-furnishings retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ: BBBY ) rose 2% after research firm Nomura upgraded the company to "buy" from "neutral" with a price target of $82, implying 21% upside from yesterday's close. The covering analyst, Arum Rubinson, still believes that concerns exist with regard to the company's ties to the health of the housing market, but that Bed Bath & Beyond is attractively valued relative to its peers. I happen to agree with Rubinson and have come around to the Bed Bath & Beyond story as well, as it's done a good job of managing its inventory and controlling its discounting over the past year. Barring a big decline in the housing sector, this company should continue to put up steady growth figures.
The retail space is in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift since mail order took off at the turn of last century. Only the most forward-looking and capable companies will survive, and they'll handsomely reward investors who understand the landscape. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.