J.C. Penney Bounces Back, Barnes & Noble Sales Give Hope

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Stocks ended the day mixed on Thursday, with two of the three major U.S. indices finishing slightly in the red. The biggest new data point of the day was jobless claims figures, which fell to 330,000 last week -- a decline of 15,000 from the week before. Wall Street, visibly unimpressed by the seasonally affected numbers, nevertheless eagerly anticipates tomorrow morning's nonfarm payroll employment figures. Expectations for December range from gains of 120,000 to 225,000 jobs, to be added on the heels of November's 203,000 employee expansion. An uninspired Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) fell 17 points, or 0.1%, to end at 16,444 today. 

Uninspired is an accurate way to describe Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) stock, as well, on Thursday, as shares cautiously retreated 0.4%. And while we're at it, a cautious retreat is precisely how you could describe Home Depot's strategy in China, when in the third quarter of last year, it closed its seven remaining Chinese locations. International expansion remains an opportunity for the home-improvement retailer, and one the company has not neglected: As of last November, one in every eight Home Depot stores are located in either Canada or Mexico.

Troubled retailer J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) might wish that its business was diversified abroad, considering the turbulence of the last couple of years. It's not a stretch to say that most of the department store's woes have been self-imposed, as it rifled through CEOs, abandoned sales, targeted new demographics, and ostracized loyal customers. J.C Penney's stock was actually up 3.7% today, but only after a brutal two-day, 15% sell-off. The slump was somewhat unusual, because it was triggered by a non-event -- the retailer has kept mum on specific holiday sales data, which Wall Street perceived as a tacit admission that sales were nothing to brag about. Investor beware: With liquidity concerns on the market's mind, J.C. Penney's long-term success may rest on its ability to execute in the coming months. 

Finally, shares of Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) tacked on 7.1% today, as its holiday comparable sales numbers (in-store and online) fell 5.5%. Yes, you read that right. Shares of Barnes & Noble rallied on news of declining sales. Changing consumer tastes are to blame for Wall Street's jubilant response to the revenue slump: e-reader growth is slowing. While Barnes & Noble's Nook is beginning to fall victim to this trend, the bookstore's brick-and-mortar stores are still the company's bread-and-butter, so any shift away from digital consumption is a light at the end of the tunnel for shareholders.

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