Just when you thought that U.S. economic data was beginning to make sense, the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) finds a way to inch higher despite what can only be described as two concerning data releases.
First, the Consumer Price Index for May came in with a higher-than-expected increase of 0.4%, which comes on top of the 0.3% gain in the CPI from April. This marked the biggest jump in the CPI since February, and points to higher prices across the boards for everything from gasoline to food for consumers. There's a fine line where investors tend to be satisfied with a rising CPI, and 0.1%-0.2% per month often tends to be that level. Any less and we risk deflation, which is bad for business pricing power and margins. Any more than 0.2%, and businesses risk a decline in sales if hourly earnings aren't concurrently moving higher. Keep an eye on this figure, as it's been inching up in recent months.
In addition to CPI data, investors received a double (negative) dose of data from the housing sector in May. According to the Commerce Department, housing starts for the month dipped 6.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,001,000, slightly below economists' expectations. Building permits told a similar story, dipping 6.4% from April, and signaling that construction activity could be waning. This is a bit worrisome with lending rates dipping back into the low 4% range. I would expect construction activity to pick up, not slow down, at these levels.
Despite this negative data, the S&P 500 still managed to tack on 4.21 points (0.22%) to close at 1,941.99. Following its first down week in quite some time, the S&P 500 has now gained in three straight sessions.
Topping the charts today, and leading all individual stocks to the upside, was solar panel retailer and leasing company SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY ) , which jumped 17.6% after announcing the acquisition of Silevo for $200 million, as well as $150 million in potential earn-out milestones. As my Foolish colleague and solar sector expert Travis Hoium noted earlier today, SolarCity's ultimate goal is to install 10 GW of solar panels per year, and the Silevo acquisition gives the company the ability to expand its module manufacturing capabilities, as well as improve output and solar efficiency. While this move should prove to be accretive to SolarCity's bottom line during the very long term, it will necessitate heavy research and development spending during the coming years, which could add to SolarCity's already large losses in the coming quarters. Keep this in mind if you consider chasing the volatile SolarCity higher.
Coming in a close second behind SolarCity is GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH ) , a discoverer of cannabinoids from the cannabis plant that are being investigated for use in treating various diseases and disorders.
GW tacked on 16.3% after it announced initial physician reports for epidiolex, its investigational drug for treatment-resistant epilepsy in children and young adults. The results showed a mean overall reduction in seizures of 44% across all patients, with 41% of patients witnessing a 70% or greater reduction in seizures, and 15% of patients finishing the 12-week treatment course seizure-free. Furthermore, 80% of all adverse events during the trial were considered to be mild-to-moderate in nature, with no patients dropping out of the study due to these AEs.
While this is undeniably good news for GW shareholders, I'd again point out that its only approved product overseas, Sativex, which treats MS-related spasticity, has sold poorly. Also, there's no guarantee that GW will be able to gain approval in the highly profitable U.S. markets, with marijuana still classified a schedule 1 drug. And, even if its products do gain approval, convincing physicians to prescribe a marijuana-derived drug could be difficult. All of these question marks, plus GW's frothy valuation, cause me to want to keep my distance from this stock.
Finally, food and service industry applications solutions provider MICROS Systems (NASDAQ: MCRS ) surged 14.9% following a report from Bloomberg that software giant Oracle (NYSE: ORCL ) could be prepared to make a bid of more than $5 billion for the company. Bloomberg's report cites that the two companies are in talks, but that no deal has, of yet, been reached. The move would certainly make sense for Oracle, with its hardware sales struggling, and even its cloud-computing software having difficulty gaining traction in the U.S. By purchasing MICROS, Oracle would likely see an instant EPS boost, which could get disgruntled shareholders off its back for at least a year. I'd be careful not to get too caught up in these rumors as of yet, though, but it's a developing situation worth monitoring.
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