Federal Reserve Minutes Drop Dow; J.C. Penney Drops Itself

Wall Street could use a swig of P-Diddy's new, fairly lame tequila venture (that bottle looks more like perfume than liquor, Mr. Combs). Because despite some solid employment data, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  )  dropped 68 points Wednesday on fresh news from the latest Federal Reserve meeting.

1. ADP reports jobs surge in December
The number of the day is 238,000. That's how many jobs the payroll-tracking firm ADP estimates that the U.S. added in December -- that's waaaay more than the 200,000 Wall Street expected. And after the hefty 215,000 new U.S. jobs in November, it's at least another good sign for the improving jobs market.
 
The takeaway is that before you pop open that celebratory Miller High Life, remember that the ADP report is just a preview to the more official monthly jobs report from the Labor Department. That one is due out Friday (the first Friday of every month). So get some good sleep for it.
 
2. Fed minutes show stimulus hate
Everyone likes some juicy details, which is why Wall Street has been eagerly anticipating the minutes from the Federal Reserve's big, end-of-the-year, policy-setting meeting last month. And after those minutes were released Wednesday, stocks took a tumble.
 
Keep in mind that in December, the Fed decided to slow (aka "taper") its stimulus policy (aka "quantitative easing"). The central bank's been buying $85 billion of long-term bonds monthly to drive interest rates lower to encourage borrowing -- but with econ data continuing to show that the economic recovery is gaining power, the Fed decided to cut stimulus to $75 billion in bond purchases (we know -- that's still the equivalent of a lot of cronuts).
 
So what was the fuss about? Most of the Fed presidents at the meeting were clearly in favor of cutting back the economy-boosting stimulus that investors love ... it's just time to slow it down. Given the recent taper, Wall Street wasn't shocked. But the strong consensus was a sign that the beloved quantitative easing could be completely cut off during 2014 (and that's worth selling some stocks off).
 
3. J.C. Penney's strange press release sends stock down
J.C. Penney
(NYSE: JCP  ) needs a muzzle, because Wednesday's vague press release sent shareholders running. The once great department store that's fallen from $87 a share in 2007 to $7.37 a share now, fell 10% after a short press release claimed it had strong holiday sales, but provided no details.

The unsolicited "comment" was only six lines long. It had like 15 positive adjectives about the company's holiday sales results, but no numbers. Similar press releases bragging about positive results have all included numbers to back up their claims. Investors immediately recognized the hollow words and feared the worst.

After its failed Apple experiment of hiring an iExecutive to lead the retailer (before firing him the following year), J.C. Penney is struggling to hang on. Strong holiday sales could be the company's last hope.

Thursday:
  • Alcoa kicks off the fourth-quarter 2013 earnings season
  • Weekly jobless claims

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