The continuing hope that earnings season will produce few disappointing surprises compounded with positive economic data helped put an end the broad-based S&P 500's (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) minimal two-day losing streak.
While a mammoth number of corporate earnings are on slate for this week, the primary driver today was the release of the ISM Services reading this morning. The reading of 55.2 for April came in ahead of Wall Street's consensus estimates and was up nicely from the reading of 53.1 for March. With its fastest growth rate in eight months investors are hoping that the non-manufacturing side of things is beginning to improve coming out of a difficult winter environment, which would be incredibly helpful to retailers.
By days end investors had slowly inched the S&P 500 up by 3.52 points (0.19%) to close at 1,884.66. The index is now roughly six points away from a fresh all-time closing high.
Leading all stocks to the upside was specialty engineered products manufacturer Lydall (NYSE: LDL ) which did things the old-fashioned way and surged 10% on the day after announcing strong first-quarter results before the opening bell. For the quarter, Lydall delivered sales growth of 26.5% to $125.2 million, of which 7.3% was organic year-over-year growth and the remainder came from an acquistion. Adjusted income for the quarter jumped to $0.40 from the $0.17 in EPS reported in the year-ago period. It was also $0.19 per share higher than the lone Wall Street estimate. Overall, Lydall has benefited impressive from automotive strength in the U.S. and it's beginning to see some signs of stabilization in Europe. With its margins improving, I'd like to say the company remains attractive, but at close to 20 times forward earnings it appears that there's little room left for upside movement.
Not too far behind was B/E Aerospace (NASDAQ: BEAV ) , a manufacturer and servicer of interior cabin products for commercial aircraft. According to a Sunday press release, the company has hired Citigroup as its financial advisor and retained Shearman & Sterling as its legal advisor to explore possible strategic alternatives to enhance shareholder value. One of the alternatives being considered is a potential sale of the company, or a spin-off of some of the company's assets. B/E Aeropsace was clear that no deal was currently in the works nor has anything been set in stone, but investors seem pretty certain with the 9.3% increase that B/E is likely to put itself up for sale. It's hard to argue against B/E's double-digit growth prospects over the near-term, but at slightly more than 10 times 2015's high-end EBITDA estimates that optimism may already be priced into its shares.
Finally, air-conditioning and heating equipment manufacturer AAON (NASDAQ: AAON ) jumped 9.2% on the day after it, too, reported market-topping first-quarter results before the opening bell. For the quarter AAON reported sales growth of 14.3% to $76.4 million and a surge in net income of 37.6% to $9.8 million, or $0.26 per share. Both figures represented all-time records for the first-quarter per the company's press release, and according to AAON's CEO Norman Asbjornson, its gains reflect strong volume sales and pricing, as well as increased market share and margins. Not to mention, expenses as a percentage of revenue also declined. By comparison, Wall Street was only expecting $69.2 million in revenue and $0.17 in EPS.
To add sprinkles to this sweet surprise, AAON also announced a 30% increase to its semi-annual dividend to $0.13/share from $0.10/share and noted that sales and EPS would grow from 2013 based on strong first-quarter results. While shares here are also somewhat pricey, AAON is the type of company that could see benefits regardless of whether people are buying new homes or staying in existing ones. As such, over the long run I could, with a disciplined cost approach, see AAON shares heading even higher.
Lydall, B/E Aerospace, and AAON all soared today, but even they may be no match for this top stock over the long haul
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