Stock Market Today: Foot Locker Laces Up and Big Lots Gets Smaller

Investors can expect a strong start to the stock market today, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has gained 81 points in pre-market trading. World indexes didn't move much in overnight trading, with Europe's stocks falling by 0.40% and Japan's Nikkei rising nearly 1%.

Look for trading to be volatile as Wall Street digests the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report this morning showed that the U.S. economy added a robust 175,000 jobs in February, led by gains in professional and business services, while the unemployment rate ticked higher to 6.7%. Economists had expected the job growth figure to be closer to 150,000 and an unemployment rate of 6.6%. The job creation numbers for the prior two months were also revised higher, and job growth has now averaged 189,000 monthly over the past 12 months.

  December January February
Jobs added 84,000 129,000

175,000

Source: BLS.

Meanwhile, news is breaking this morning on a few stocks that could see heavy trading in today's session, including Foot Locker (NYSE: FL  ) and Big Lots (NYSE: BIG  ) .

Foot Locker shares are up almost 6% in pre-market trading after the company announced strong fourth-quarter earnings results. Profit spiked by 19% and beat estimates, coming in at $0.81 a share. Sales grew 4.6% to $1.79 billion as the shoe seller managed what few other retailers could over the holidays: a healthy 5% rise in comparable-store sales. Notably, profit margin also remained at a record high for the company, which means that it didn't have to slash prices to keep customer traffic humming. Foot Locker management expects to add to that momentum with new initiatives in the short term like its children's business and shop-in-shop concepts, and a European expansion is in the cards for the longer term.

Big Lots this morning booked a rough, but still better than expected, 6% drop in sales for its fiscal fourth quarter. Revenue came in at $1.64 billion, slightly ahead of the $1.61 billion that Wall Street expected. Earnings were even with expectations at $1.39 a share. The closeout retailer saw comparable-store sales shrink by an unfortunate 3%. Still, with some retailers booking double-digit losses in that metric last quarter, it could have been much worse. One more point for the less-bad category: Canadian operations cleaved just $0.47 per share from profits last quarter, compared to $0.70 in the year-ago period. Thankfully, Big Lots is in the final stages of exiting that business. It expects 2014 to be slightly better than last year as a result: Comparable-store sales should grow as much as 2% and earnings should be roughly $2.35 a share in 2014, the company said. The stock is up 16% in pre-market trading.

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