J.C. Penney and Monster Beverage Surprise, and the Fed Gives In to Winter

Good morning, good lookin'. Here are the three things you need to know on Feb. 28.

Feb 28, 2014 at 7:00AM
Someone snag us a pint of the new Ben & Jerry's "Core" flavor ice cream -- we're looking to celebrate Wall Street's record high with a fudge-powered sugar binge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) rose 74 points and the S&P 500 reached a milestone of 1,854 points Thursday thanks to solid corporate earnings and some forgiving comments from the Federal Resere.
 
1. J.C. Penney reports un-horrible earnings (surprise!)
J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) defied the odds and posted its first quarterly profit in two and a half years in the quarter that ended on Feb. 1. The 112-year-old department store that your aunt in rural Vermont still loves needed accounting gimmicks to achieve the $35 million gain -- but it's definitely way better than last year's $552 million loss. And it's thanks to the new (old) CEO, Mike Ullman.

Operation: Turn Back Time is what's driving Penney's rebound. Back in the good ol' days, small-town guys and gals went to Penney to get a deal on anti-slim fit Arizona Jeans and Columbia fleeces. Then the company stumbled by hiring an Apple exec, Ron Johnson, who killed discounting and tried to bring in trendy brands like Joe Fresh (this was the equivalent of a corporate midlife-crisis). Ullman got rehired last year and has brought back Mom's favorite St. John's Bay goods.

Investors think the bottom has been reached and that Penney is finally on the ups. Sales at stores open more than a year rose 2% and profit margins notably increased. The back-again CEO Ullman is just giving shoppers the Presidents Day weekend discounts and cozy clothes they want. The stock surged 25% Thursday on optimism for the retail store's future.

2. Monster Beverage surges on energetic earnings
Someone enjoyed an extra portion of caffeine over the past quarter. Shares of energy drink-concocter Monster Beverage (NASDAQ:MNST) jumped 2.6% in after-hours trading Thursday after reporting better-than-expected earnings. Revenues last quarter rose 15% to $541 million from the previous year, thanks to sales of nearly 53 million cases of Monster. It's like the company's financials have been drinking its own goods.

That's not all. Wall Street was also impressed with the fact that cravings for Monster surged despite a wave of attacks on its marketing and questions about its health risks. Apparently many parents don't like Monster ads that target children (who already have too much energy) and think its caffeine levels could potentially be deadly. But Monster's managed to weather the storm as it fights back. Not too shabby for the world's most successful Red Bull knock-off.

The takeaway is that Monster's earnings tasted good, but they would have been even better if it hadn't been for the $4.7 million it dropped on lawsuits regarding its health risks -- triple the amount from the previous year.

3. Yellen admits winter froze U.S. econ data
It's official -- you can now blame it on the weather. The new Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, just one month into her reign of America's central bank, gave a speech to the Senate Banking Committee Thursday, acknowledging that Mother Nature was slowing the economy. (Hilariously/ironically, her speech had been postponed from a couple weeks earlier because of the weather).
 
For the past six weeks, the MarketSnacks team has aggressively reported to you how everything from manufacturing activity to retail sales to existing-home sales (with the slight exception of sales of new homes) had surprisingly slowed in January after multiple polar vortexes. Nothing deters consumers quite like frostbite.
 
The takeaway is that the U.S. economic recovery had gained so much momentum throughout 2013 that the slowdown in 2014 had shocked investors over the last few weeks. For Yellen's speech, Wall Street was wondering: Once the blizzards stop and spring actually happens, will econ data go back to being sunny and fun? And if the economy keeps slipping on black ice, will Yellen's Fed instead increase its stimulus policies?

Today:
  • U.S. fourth-quarter GDP report
  • Fourth-quarter earnings reports: Woolworth's
 
As originally published on MarketSnacks.com

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