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Stocks finished essentially flat today on a day with no major economic reports, as investors continued to react to earnings reports coming in. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) finished up 8 points, or 0.05%. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq made slightly larger gains as investors looked ahead to Janet Yellen's first remarks as the new chairwoman of the Federal Reserve tomorrow. The Fed's bond-buying taper has taken center stage in investors' minds, and the market is anxious to see whether Yellen will continue the taper as expected, in declining increments of $10 billion, or whether she will slow it down. Yellen will meet with lawmakers tomorrow to discuss the future of the country's monetary policy.
In stocks making news today, Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) shares spiked 9% on reports that it will lay off staff in its Nook e-reader division. The struggling bookseller said reports in Business Insider that claimed it had fired its entire Nook engineering department were incorrect, but it did allow that it had let go of some employees. A spokeswoman said the company was "rationalizing" the division, which has gone from being viewed as a potential savior for the retailer to now an albatross in need of a turnaround or harvesting. Nook sales fell 60.5% during the holiday season, and the department is just one of many problems facing Barnes & Noble as readers turn to the Internet to get their books. Long-term investors would be better off ignoring today's gains, and waiting for a real sign of a turnaround, if it ever comes.
Elsewhere, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) continued to struggle as shares finished down 1.1%, after the fast-food chain reported January comps. Overall same-store sales were actually better than expected, improving 1.2% globally on flat guidance, but fell domestically by 3.3%. McDonald's recent troubles at home seem to have been magnified amid problems revamping its dollar menu and rolling out other menu items, and management cited bad weather and other broad-based challenges for the poor results at home.
After hours, shares of another food-maker were falling as well, as Annie's (NYSE: BNNY ) was down 9% after an underwhelming third-quarter earnings report. The maker of organic food products including mac-and-cheese said sales improved 21.7% to $46.2 million, ahead of estimates at $45.9 million, while adjusted EPS grew just 8% to $0.17, a penny short of expectations. Annie's also scaled back EPS guidance for the full year from $0.93 to $0.92 on increasing cost pressure, below analyst estimates at $0.97. CEO John Foraker noted positive signs in accelerating consumption, but the high-priced stock will need to show stronger bottom-line growth to live up to investors' hopes.
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