The Federal Reserve did just what it was expected to do yesterday, announcing a continuance of its "tapering" policy, reducing asset purchases to a $45 billion monthly rate. That's only about half the $85 billion a month it steadily plowed into the economy between September 2012 and December 2013http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/18/news/economy/federal-reserve-taper/?iid=EL. While markets were initially worried that the taper would hurt the economy, Chairwoman Janet Yellen has pledged to keep interest rates low as long as inflation remains in check and the job market stays stagnant. While the economy's managed to chug along nicely this year, you wouldn't know it by looking at shares of Avon Products, (NYSE:AVP), Western Digital Corp. (NASDAQ:WDC), and Seagate Technology PLC (NASDAQ:STX) today. Each stock ended near the bottom of the S&P 500 Index (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) on Thursday.
Avon Products suffered a miserable day on Wall Street, losing 10.2%, as first-quarter earnings severely underwhelmed investors. Analysts were expecting earnings per share around $0.21, but it wasn't meant to be. The international cosmetics company saw sales fall by 11%, as EPS came in at a mere $0.12. As if that weren't enough, Avon will also fork over a combined $135 million to the Justice Department and the SEC in order to settle charges of bribery in overseas markets. In a way, the settlement is a breath of fresh air, because the charges have been hanging over the company's head since 2008. But Avon's business just isn't getting better, and investors are sick and tired of waiting.
Shares of Western Digital Corp. also had a rough time on Thursday, slumping 6.6%, as quarterly profits topped estimates, but the company's forecasts fell short of consensus. Western Digital sees earnings per share between $1.65 and $1.75, where Wall Street was looking for $1.89. Its share of the disk-drive market was also down slightly last quarter, falling from 44.4% to 44.1%. Average revenue per unit fell more markedly, from $60 to $58 in just a quarter's time. The long-term trend isn't uplifting, either, with prices clocking in at $61 a year ago.
Seagate Technology PLC, a Western Digital Rival, also took a hit today, with shares falling 3.5%. The stock traded lower yesterday as investors reacted to Seagate's own quarterly report, which was very similar to Western Digital's in several important respects. On the positive side, earnings topped estimates; however, like its rival, Seagate slightly disappointed on revenue while also forecasting lower sales in the current quarter than analysts were expecting. Western Digital's results affirmed what investors perceive as a disappointing short-term environment for data-storage companies.
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