Despite another day of the ongoing "tech wreck," the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) was able to pull itself out of negative territory on the heels of mixed economic data and generally positive earnings data.
On the economic data front, consumer credit figures for March, and the weekly loan originations data, worked to send the market up from its lows. Consumer credit for March improved nicely, to $17.5 billion from $13 billion in February, and perfectly fits with the theme that consumers opened their wallets in force following the polar vortex In January and February.
As for loan originations, they increased 5.3% from the prior week, helping to offset the 5.9% decline witnessed last week. While it's good to see homeowners and prospective home buyers refinancing and applying for mortgages, mortgage servicing activity is still notoriously weak given how low rates are historically. This is still a troublesome trend if you ask me.
On the flipside, worker productivity for the first-quarter tumbled 1.7% as unit labor costs soared 4.2%. As we've witnessed with prior data, this was likely a result of the harsher winter, but it nonetheless serves as a point of caution for investors moving forward.
All inclusive, investors were pleased with corporate earnings and the mixed economic data, helping to push the S&P 500 higher by 10.49 points (0.56%), to close at 1,878.21.
Surging to the upside and leading all stocks higher today was for-profit educator Strayer Education (NASDAQ: STRA ) , which rose 21.1% after also topping Wall Street's estimates in the first quarter. During the quarter, it delivered a drop in revenue of 15%, to $116.5 million, as its net income fell 14%, to $1.40 per share from $1.59 per share in the year-prior period. Strayer's EPS, however, topped the Street's expectations by $0.11 per share. Frankly, in spite of the bottom-line beat, I'm having a difficult time figuring out what investors are so excited about today.
Bad debt expenses rose to 4.3% from 4% year over year, while total spring-term enrollment decreased 10%, to 41,327 students. Although new student enrollment rose by 1%, continuing student enrollment, which is truly the bread and butter of driving consistency for Strayer, fell 13%. If I were a shareholder, I'd consider taking this gift and heading for the exits.
Coming in a close second was video game specialist Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA ) , which gained 21% after reporting its fourth-quarter earnings results after the closing bell last night.
The company behind the Madden and EA Sports franchises reported that revenue fell 12% year over year, to $914 million, but more importantly, mobile revenue soared to a record of nearly $460 million. Excluding one-time costs, EA's profit for the quarter fell to $0.48 per share from $0.55 in the year-ago period. Compared to the Street's estimates of $0.37 in EPS on $812.4 million in revenue, EA crushed it! Looking ahead, EA is forecasting revenue of $4.1 billion for the year, in-line with expectations, and EPS of $1.85, significantly better than the $1.51 the Street had forecast. Adding icing to the cake, it also announced a $750 million share repurchase program. My suggestion would be to not get too fixated on the buyback and, instead, focus on the optimism surrounding EA's mobile growth. As long as mobile growth keeps surging, it's quite possible EA could have additional long-term upside.
Finally, casino and resort operator Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ: CZR ) advanced 14.1% after its joint-venture Caesars Acquisition Company (NASDAQ: CACQ ) reported strong quarterly results. For CAC, total net revenue spiked to $226.3 million from $151.1 million, and adjusted EBITDA rose 32% despite the fact that its loss from operations grew to $61.8 million.
But, even more importantly, according to a report from Bloomberg, Caesars Entertainment announced that it's selling a minority interest (5% stake) in Caesars Entertainment Operating Co. to unnamed investors. The move will mean that bond holders in the company no longer hold a claim to the companies' assets, and it should allow Caesars to undertake a massive debt restructuring, which is sorely needed. While good news for current shareholders, I still view Caesars' long-term debt as too much of a hindrance to make it a viable investment.
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