The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has gained a modest 12 points in pre-market trading, suggesting a flat start to the stock market today. Still, stocks could easily break into record territory in this trading session: The Dow's 0.46% rise yesterday put it just 44 points, or 0.27% below the all-time high set on Dec. 31.
A new jobs report this morning from ADP showed that private employers added 191,000 jobs in March. That figure was slightly below economists' expectations of 205,000 new jobs, but it was still above the average employment growth over the past 12 months, pointing to a potentially strong spring for the job market.
Monsanto is heading into the spring planting season with some solid business momentum. The seed giant this morning posted $3.15 a share in quarterly profit on $5.83 billion in sales. Analysts had expected about the same amount of revenue but just $3.07 in per-share earnings. A solid jump in both of Monsanto's major corn and soybean product lines helped it book a 6% rise in revenue, along with a 3-percentage-point improvement in profitability -- to an impressive 59% of sales. Lower corn plantings did crimp results, but not by as much as many investors feared. Monsanto affirmed its aggressive outlook for the rest of the year, saying that it expects to post a "strong" second half that should power overall annual earnings of roughly $5.15 a share. The stock was up 0.8% in pre-market trading.
OMNOVA this morning booked a small improvement in quarterly profit, logging $0.05 a share in adjusted earnings as compared to last year's $0.03 result. The specialty chemicals producer blamed extreme winter weather for a surprise dip in demand, as well as for an extra $1.5 million in operating costs. Still, gross margin improved to 21.7% in the quarter as OMNOVA saw a stronger mix of high-margin product sales. In a press release accompanying the announcement, CEO Kevin McMullen said competitive pressure should continue in the company's biggest chemicals market, but that opportunities for strong growth include areas such as oil and gas exploration and the automotive industry. OMNOVA's stock was down nearly 4% in pre-market trading.
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