Markets Mixed as Mortgage Data and Retailers Look Weak

After all three of the major U.S. stock indices opened the day lower, but they were mixed as of 1 p.m. EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  )  was down 15 points, or 0.10% and the S&P 500 was off by 0.07%, but the Nasdaq managed to gain 0.19%.

On the economic front, Mortgage Bankers Association data on mortgages for the week ending March 7 showed that that the purchase index was down 1% while the refinancing index was off by 3%. Slightly more concerning was that on a year-over-year basis the purchase index has fallen 17%. Most believe this simply indicates there are more cash buyers today than seen in the past, which could affect the banking industry in the long run if the number of loans being generated continues to dramatically decline.  

Shares of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , the Dow's only real mortgage-related financial institution, were lower by 0.67%. The big banks in recent years have shifted their focus back to the mortgage business based on its profitability and ability to better mitigate their risks compared to other banking activities.

Outside the Dow, shares of Express (NYSE: EXPR  )  were down 11.4% after the clothing retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings this morning. Revenue came in at $715.9 million and earnings per share hit $0.57, while analysts were looking for sales of $722.02 million and earnings of $0.59. Net income was down 25% for the fourth quarter as the company was forced to cut prices to move merchandise. For the year, Express posted revenue of $2.22 billion, up from $2.16 billion in the year-ago period, but earnings per share fell from $1.60 to $1.37. Moving forward, management believes first-quarter income will be within a range from $0.12 to $0.18, while analysts were looking for $0.42. For full 2014, analysts expected $1.59 per share, but the company only believes it will produce $1.03 to $1.23 per share in earnings. Earnings figures looked bad for both the quarter and past year, and even worse when management began talking about the future. Investors may want to stay away. 

In other news, shares of Target (NYSE: TGT  ) were just under breakeven after consulting group Kantar Retail reported this morning that traffic to the retailer hit its lowest point in three years. The report indicates that in January 2013 43% of Americans had shopped at Target, but that figure fell to just 33% in January of this year. The massive decline is being blamed on the data breach in which 40 million customer credit or debit accounts were hacked during the holiday shopping season. At this point investors shouldn't be panic selling, but it will take time for customers' fears to dissipate; when that happens, traffic should begin to rebound.  

Another retailer having a rough go today is Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ: URBN  ) as shares are off by more than 2%. The fall comes after the company reported weak earnings after the closing bell on Monday and warned about the current quarter, causing shares to decline 4.26% yesterday. Today's additional decline is being fueled by a Barclays downgrade from overweight to equal weight. Click here for a colleagues take on the rating change and the stock. The teen retail industry is very difficult to operate in and Urban Outfitters seems to no longer be in fashion.  

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