Today was a ridiculously busy day for economic data, which, not surprisingly, constricted the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) within a very tight range for most of the day.
On the bright side, the U.S. Labor Department noted that weekly initial jobless claims fell 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 323,000 -- just above their lowest level in six years. Fewer jobless claims would signal that through either full or part-time work, Americans are finding jobs. Similarly, worker productivity was revised up to 2.3% from a previous estimate of 0.9% in the second quarter, all while labor costs remain unchanged. That could bode well for corporate margins in the upcoming quarter if this trend continues.
On the other hand, the ADP employment report noted the creation of just 176,000 private sector jobs when 180,000 was forecast by economists. While not a huge miss, it's enough to rattle the cage a bit. In addition, crude inventories fell by a little more than 1.8 million barrels, which is bad news for consumers, with oil prices already very much near a two-year high.
By the end of the day, the worker productivity and cost data proved a little too strong for investors to ignore, and the S&P inched higher by two points exactly (0.12%), to close at 1,655.08, its third-straight day of gains.
Industrial and construction components supplier Fastenal (NASDAQ: FAST ) is a new name among the day's best gainers, but it led the pack, advancing 6% after reporting solid sales for the month of August. Year-over-year sales improved 2.5%, but adjusting for the extra day in the year-ago period, daily-rate sales actually increased 7.2%. It also doesn't hurt that, while factory orders were down, they came in better than expected with ISM services and worker productivity also trumping estimates. As long as the U.S. manufacturing sector is expanding, Fastenal shareholders will remain in the driver's seat.
Also finding its way to a solid day with a 5.3% gain is struggling U.S. retailer J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) , which made headlines today by announcing that it would be dropping the Martha Stewart line in its stores. If you recall, Penney's and Macy's were locking horns over who had the rights to sell Martha Stewart's products in its stores. According to Macy's, it signed an exclusive 10-year deal with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia years ago, which should have precluded Penney's from striking a deal with Martha Stewart in the first place. Apparently, with Penney's being cash-strapped, simply dropping the brand seemed like the smart thing to do rather than waste money on legal fees.
Finally, solar panel maker First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR ) added 5.2% despite a lack of company-specific news. First Solar has rebounded in a big way off its lows, thanks to large orders in the U.S., and a focus from the Obama administration on making the U.S. more energy independent. In addition, First Solar's Chinese counterparts are carrying hefty net debt positions that aren't being helped by chronic low margins and oversupply. With anti-dumping tariffs now in place on often-cheaper Chinese goods in some overseas markets, First Solar's panel efficiency and size are starting to play to its advantage.
With the American markets hitting multiple new highs this year, investors and pundits alike have been skeptical about future growth -- but they shouldn't be. Many global regions are still stuck in neutral, and their resurgence could result in windfall profits for select companies. A recent Motley Fool report, "3 Strong Buys for a Global Economic Recovery," outlines three companies that could take off when the global economy gains steam. Click here to read the full report!