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The markets have gone on a tear today despite downbeat news out of China's manufacturing sector, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) up more than 103 points at 2:30 p.m. EST and all but a handful of blue-chippers in the green. Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) is leading the way after the FCC relented in a battle over net neutrality. On the other side of the index, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) tumbled following a disappointing look forward. Let's catch up on what you need to know.
Manufacturing pivots, Wal-Mart sours
Two contrasting manufacturing reports kicked off the market's day from opposite sides of the Pacific. Markit's flash Purchasing Managers' Index for the U.S. manufacturing sector in February jumped to a reading of 56.7, a full three points up from January's final mark and far above the level of 50 that indicates neither expansion nor contraction in the sector. That's good news for leading U.S. industrials companies, but they didn't pick up such good feelings from China: HSBC and Markit's flash PMI for the world's second-leading economy dipped to 48.3, the second straight month of contraction to open the year and down from January's reading. While China's manufacturing sector traditionally dips during the Chinese New Year period, concerns have been mounting over the slowdown in the world's largest emerging market and won't be alleviated by today's results.
Wal-Mart is making news on the Dow today after releasing its fourth-quarter earnings. Food stamp cuts and unusually cold weather took their toll on the retailer's earnings, as Wal-Mart's net profit fell to $4.4 billion for the quarter, a 21% year-over-year decrease. Dollar stores and other budget retailers have sliced into Wal-Mart's traditional space of appealing to price-wary consumers. Despite posting a 2% gain in full-year earnings per share for 2013, the company still missed on Wall Street's expectations for that mark. The stock has fallen 1.7% on the news.
Don't get too excited by a potential buying opportunity, however, as more bad luck could be headed Wal-Mart's way. Sales at stores open at least a year fell in the fourth quarter, and the company only foresees revenue growth for full-year 2014 coming in at the low end of its projections of between 3% and 5% growth. To compensate, Wal-Mart plans to launch between 270 and 300 small stores this coming year, a venture that could cost the company up to $600 million. Smaller stores have performed better, with comparable-store sales up 5% year over year. However, with the company expecting its e-commerce expansion to chip into earnings, 2014 could be a meager year for investors expecting more out of this retail giant.
Verizon's making news on the other end of the Dow, jumping 3.2% after the Federal Communications Commission announced it won't appeal an appeals court verdict that sided against the agency's Open Internet rules imposed in 2010. Verizon brought the court challenge against the FCC, and while the agency still says it will rewrite net neutrality laws to protect consumers, the announcement is a win for Verizon and other Internet broadband giants. Verizon, like its top competitors, has invested heavily in its broadband architecture in the hopes of charging major online companies for faster service.
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