Weak Wal-Mart and Poor EU GDP News Sink the Dow, but JC Penney Soars

Thursday wasn't fun for the stock market. The Dow (DJINDICES: ^DJI  )  plummeted 167 points thanks to some poor corporate and economic headlines.

1. Wal-Mart suffers from food stamp cuts
Apparently, the only thing you can't buy at Wal-Mart is a good earnings report at a cheap price. Shares of the world's largest retailer dropped 2.4% Thursday after the company's first quarter performance failed to meet analysts' expectations. Revenues barely rose from February through April, to $114.96 billion, compared to the $116 billion analysts hoped for.

We're not saying that the gun-totin' shoppers at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  )  are wimps. But like other retailers this year, Wal-Mart execs blamed the absurdly cold winter weather for the company's 3.5.% drop in quarterly profits. Interestingly, Wal-Mart shoppers were arguably more affected by the temperatures, since big-a** Wal-Mart stores are typically located in the drivable outskirts of towns.

The takeaway is that it wasn't just the weather -- it was food stamps. About one in every five Wal-Mart customers relies on some type of food stamp program. And given the recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the largest anti-hunger program in the country), Wal-Mart shoppers weren't taking home groceries.

2. J.C. Penney gets new life in first quarter
J.C. Penney was left for dead by investors, but suddenly its sales jumped 6.2% in the Feb-April period. The number excludes newly opened and closed stores, and is a sign that consumers haven't completely abandoned J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  )  department stores. And it only mentioned "weather" once in its whole announcement. That's refreshing.

The stock climbed 20% since the announcement of its $352 million loss (which was way better than expected). The stock will climb from its abysmal $8/share much higher when the market opens Friday. Former CEO (and former Apple exec) Ron Johnson drove the company to the brink of collapse with his attempt to flip the store into a sprawling Apple-style megastore. Old CEO Myron Ullman is back with authority.

It's all about the plastic. JC Penney feels like Django unchained now that it has an additional $500 million credit line from the big banks. (It's only right that a shopping CEO has a big credit card.) Ullman announced the bigger credit line Thursday with the earnings report, a sign that even stuffy Wall Street bankers have increasing faith in JCP. Investors are lining up to see what he will do with the extra cash.

3. EU econ data disappoints the world
We'll spare you the jokes about French people. But there wasn't too much that was funny about the Gross Domestic Product news out of the European Union. GDP measures the total economic output (goods and services produced) by a country, and GDP growth across the EU was a meager 0.2%, below the 0.4% expected.

The takeaway is that struggling European economies are still recovering from the debt crisis that created continentwide recessions less than two years ago. For the first quarter of 2014, powerhouse Germany led the way with an impressive 0.8% GDP growth rate, while France's GDP was flat, and Italy's actually declined by 0.5%. Investors expect the European Central Bank to maintain its super low interest rates to desperately encourage economy-boosting borrowing to buy cigarettes and wine.

As originally published on

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9/1/2015 4:35 PM
^DJI $16058.35 Down -469.68 -2.84%
JCP $9.26 Up +0.15 +1.65%
J.C. Penney Compan… CAPS Rating: *
WMT $63.82 Down -0.91 -1.41%
Wal-Mart Stores CAPS Rating: ***