Why Orexigen Therapeutics, United Natural Foods, and United Continental Holdings Tumbled Today

Wednesday featured what has become an increasingly rare event for the stock market: a solid decline. The Dow fell triple digits as investors worried about the state of the global economy, with indications of a slight slowdown in economic activity throwing cold water on the idea that the worst of the downturn for many national economies around the world was finally over. For the most part, declines for stocks were moderate, but for Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX  ) , United Natural Foods (NASDAQ: UNFI  ) , and United Continental Holdings (NYSE: UAL  ) , losses were much more significant.

Orexigen Therapeutics dropped 15% as investors were disappointed to see the Food and Drug Administration once again delay a ruling on anti-obesity treatment Contrave. Shareholders have already had to deal with a long wait from the FDA even as Orexigen's competitors have already had their obesity drugs approved. Investors had driven up shares of Orexigen in advance of the anticipated ruling, but now, the FDA could wait as long as September before deciding -- or making a further delay. Even more troubling is the fact that Orexigen's competitors haven't seen the blockbuster victories they had expected from their already-approved drugs, and given how much Orexigen has counted on Contrave for its future, their challenges could bode ill for the stock in the future even if the drug does get FDA approval.

United Natural Foods dropped almost 8% after its fiscal third-quarter earnings report. The natural-food distributor said that net income climbed 15% on a 14% increase in revenue. But guidance for the rest of the fiscal year fell short of what investors had hoped to see, with sales gains of just 11% to 12% for the year and earnings growth of 13% to 15% confirming some of the sluggishness that investors have seen elsewhere in the natural-foods space. As more players in the industry look to obtain and distribute natural and organic foods, United Natural has to work harder to keep its competitive moat intact. But the upside is that if the company can keep distinguishing itself as the premier player in the space, favorable trends could actually boost United Natural's importance in the industry.

Source: United Continental.

United Continental dropped 5%, with commentators blaming the World Bank's global economic assessment as well as a warning from European giant Lufthansa that its earnings wouldn't be as strong as expected. United Continental has lagged behind many of its U.S. peers, as the airline continues to go through growing pains following the merger of United and Continental several years ago. Given the success of the airline industry generally, signs that the good times might be coming to an end are troubling, but as long as the U.S. market can outperform struggling Europe, then United Continental and its domestic rivals could regain their losses from today in short order.

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