The stock market closed three hours early today ahead of the Fourth of July holiday tomorrow. That didn't stop investors from sending both the Dow and the S&P 500 Index (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) to all-time highs in a hurry on the heels of a stunningly resurgent jobs market. The U.S. Labor Department's monthly nonfarm payrolls showed that the economy created a seasonally adjusted 288,000 jobs in June, a figure so comically far above the 211,000 consensus expectation, it made the economists responsible for the lowball forecast look downright silly. Looking even sillier were shares of Exelon Corporation (NYSE:EXC), NextEra Energy, (NYSE:NEE), and Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), which each somehow managed to fare miserably as stock markets hit all-time highs, and Americans literally prepare to jubilantly launch fireworks, grill out, and enjoy life.
Unfortunately for today's three laggards, they hail from a sector that actually tends to suffer when investors are slapping each other on their backs, and stock markets are roaring to record highs. That sad-sounding sector, of course, is the utilities sector. Do you know what percentage of S&P 500 stocks advanced today? Well, 80%. Eighty percent. Care to guess how many of the S&P's 10 worst performers were utilities stocks today? All 10. Every last one of the worst performers was a utility stock. Exelon shares ended as one of Thursday's more pronounced decliners, dropping 1.8%. So why was Wall Street so down on Exelon today? Sure, it's dealing with some fallout from Midwest storms earlier this week, and Hurricane Arthur won't do it any favors; but it's one of the largest utilities in the country, rewarding investors with a 3.4% annual dividend yield to boot!
But if chunky dividends and large market caps were the only things investors wanted, shares of $42 billion electric utility company NextEra Energy wouldn't have lost 1.5% on Thursday. The concern with NextEra Energy, Exelon, and utilities stocks, in general, in a clearly improving economy, revolves around the fear of higher interest rates. The momentous job growth in June put the unemployment rate at 6.1% -- its lowest level in nearly six years -- and capped off a five-month job-creating binge that was last matched in 2006. You can bet this unexpected strength has the Federal Reserve thinking about when it should raise interest rates again -- an act that would impair the ability of utilities like NextEra and Exelon to keep paying fat dividends.
While it's true that the day's worst stocks were all utilities, Tyson Foods deserves special mention for underperforming with the worst of 'em, as the mere meat-packing giant that it is. Tyson Foods, which produces all sorts of poultry, beef, and pork products, shed 1.2% on Thursday. You've likely seen the brand plastered all over your local grocery store for years, but Tyson has grander ambitions: It wants to take a bite out of Jimmy Dean. As of yesterday, the company did just that, snapping up Hillshire Brands -- which also makes Ball Park hot dogs -- for $7.7 billion. While a plan to acquire an iconic hot dog brand in the days before the Fourth of July isn't beyond the dexterous financiers of Wall Street, Tyson's Hillshire deal won't officially close until late September.
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