ANN Jumps on Private-Equity Stake, While Tiffany Fails to Shine

Stocks traded above water for most of today's session, and the S&P 500 even hit an intraday trading high at 1,883.97. However, an afternoon sell-off caused all three major indexes to finish down. The Dow Jones Industrial Average  (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) closed down 28 points, or 0.2%, while the broad-based S&P lost 0.3%. The Nasdaq fell 1% on a widespread sell-off of biotech stocks.

The afternoon decline did not seem to be prompted by any particular news item; perhaps it was just profit taking and position covering in high-volume trading on an options Friday. In international news, Russia completed its annexation of Crimea, and Russian stocks fell 1% on another round of sanctions against officials and tycoons in the formerly communist country.

Reporting earnings this morning, Tiffany  (NYSE: TIF  ) finished down 0.5% after trading up 3% at one point during the session. The high-end jeweler came up short on the bottom line with an adjusted profit of $1.47 per share on estimates of $1.52. Sales were up 5.1%, or 9% on a constant-currency basis, to $1.3 billion, matching expectations. Without adjustments, the company saw a loss of $0.81 per share due to an adverse arbitration ruling with Swatch, costing it $473 million. Management also issued downside EPS guidance for 2014 of $4.05-$4.15 against estimates of $4.28, though investors tended to see the guidance as overly conservative, sending the stock higher for most of the session.

Elsewhere in retail, ANN  (NYSE: ANN  ) was getting a boost, climbing 13% after private equity firm Golden Gate Captial disclosed a 9.5% stake in the Ann Taylor parent. Golden Gate is known for shaking up retailers, but said it had no intentions of the sort, showering management and the overall business with praise in a letter, and saying it believed shares were "significantly undervalued." ANN responded to the investment by saying it's had two straight years of record earnings and four straight of improving comparable sales, and that it welcomed new investors. Based on today's rally, investors seemed to agree that shares are undervalued. The retailer beat fourth-quarter earnings estimates easily last week, and is now up more than 30% since its pre-earnings announcement on February 6.

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