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Despite an absolute barrage of mixed economic data today, the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) only managed a yawner of a move to end the week.
The headline figure today was the release of the Labor Department nonfarm payroll report which showed the addition of 175,000 jobs in February, slightly topping economists' projections. The report was quite strong considering that the ADP employment report showed a gain of only 139,000 jobs in the private sector earlier this week. On the flip side, the unemployment rate ticked higher by 0.1% to 6.7%, bouncing off its five-plus year low.
Workers' wages were also mixed, with the February data release pointing to a sizable 0.4% jump in hourly earnings, but a slight decline in the average workweek to 34.2 hours. Theoretically, we'd love to see workers get paid more because it could boost consumption, a vital component of U.S. GDP, and it would likely signal that businesses are doing well. The workweek hours drop, however, could point to corporations being more wary about taking on full-time workers in this economic environment, and wanting to remain flexible with more part-time employees.
After a select number of earnings reports, more geopolitical indigestion from Russia and Ukraine, and a veritable mountain of economic data (of which I covered just a snippet above), the S&P ended the day slightly higher by 1.01 points (0.05%) to close at 1,878.04.
Leading the charge to the upside, once again, was fuel-cell systems developer Plug Power (NASDAQ: PLUG ) which gained 30% despite a lack of company-specific news today. However, that doesn't mean Plug Power hasn't been in the spotlight recently. Shares have surged since the company announced an order for 1,738 fuel-cell systems to power forklifts in Wal-Mart warehouses. This order could go a long way to validating its product as viable, and may even move Plug Power toward profitability. Just yesterday, though, we also witnessed Plug Power price 3.9 million shares at $5.74 in order to gross $22.4 million. This dilutive offering serves as a reminder that nothing is for certain even now with regard to fuel-cell system developers. Following Plug's monstrous run higher, I'd suggest investors wait things out on the sidelines.
Audio accessories specialist Skullcandy (NASDAQ: SKUL ) also rocketed higher by 24.2% after announcing its fourth-quarter earnings results. For the quarter, net sales tumbled 28% to $72.2 million while earnings per share dipped to $0.13 from $0.42 as the company continued to execute its turnaround strategy. However, Wall Street had only been counting on Skullcandy to report a profit of $0.09 per share. Furthermore, Skullcandy is forecasting generally accepted accounting principles EPS for fiscal 2014 of $0.10-$0.14 on high single-digit revenue growth, which is nicely higher at the midpoint than the $0.10 the Street was expecting, as well as the consensus sales growth estimate of 4%. It's clear that Skullcandy's cost-cutting and strategic shifts are working, but it'll certainly be a slow-and-go process.
Finally, discount retail chain Big Lots (NYSE: BIG ) rallied 23% following its fourth-quarter report. For the quarter Big Lots saw net sales dip 6% to $1.64 billion as EPS came in at $1.39. Keep in mind that this sales decline was primarily due to the extra week in last year's reporting period. Overall, comparable-store sales in the U.S. decreased 3% as the company continued to focus on its exit from the Canadian market. Comparably, Big Lots' revenue topped estimates by $30 million, while its EPS missed by $0.01 per share. What really invigorated investors was Big Lots' guidance which calls for $2.25-$2.45 in EPS for fiscal 2014 on U.S same-store sales growth of 0%-2%. Big Lots is still planning to close more stores than it is opening, but the prospect that the company may have finally cleared the hump and has taken the hint to focus on improving its U.S. operations has investors excited.
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