It's been a long time since investors have had a duck-and-cover trading day; but today was one of those days, with U.S. economic data being mixed, and political tensions around the globe heightened.
If there was positive news to be found today, it was in the weekly initial jobless claims report. This week's seasonally adjusted number dropped to 302,000, nearing a multi-year low. This figure is giving us crucial insight into the health of the jobs market, and is implying that there's a good chance the U.S. unemployment rate could dip below 6% in the near future.
However, other U.S. economic data, especially from the housing sector, wasn't nearly as bright. Housing starts for June plummeted 9.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 893,000 from a revised-down 985,000 in May. Despite the NAHB Market Index moving up and signifying that homebuilders felt more confident about their future, this figure would imply that builders are being more cautious than ever about adding new inventory to the market, with the Federal Reserve on the precipice of hiking lending rates within the next six to 12 months. I would still suggest that housing is one sector to steer clear of in the near term.
Even worse, though, was news this morning that a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet carrying 295 people had reportedly been shot down in Ukraine by a surface-to-air missile. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and the United States and Russia, are already thick enough that you could cut them with a knife. Also, the back-and-forth sanction game between the U.S. and Russia is only making things worse. Today's tragic disaster will only further shine light on this regional tension, and is causing a serious case of indigestion for global investors.
By day's end, the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) was pushed lower by 23.45 points (-1.18%) to close at 1,958.12, marking the worst day for the S&P 500 since April 9. Despite the downdraft, three companies managed to trudge their way significantly higher.
In a non-surprise, leading the pack higher today was metal miner Silver Standard Resources (NASDAQ: SSRI ) , which gained 9.6% on the day following both a strong move for silver prices, as well as commentary from research firms Zacks. Specifically, Zacks' research notes that EPS estimates have improved noticeably during the past couple of weeks for Silver Standard Resources, which could bode well for shareholders in the near term. It also doesn't hurt that spot silver prices roared back above $21/oz. after a two-day swoon. Metals are a common safe-haven investment for traders when the markets are deeply in the red.
While Silver Standard has had little issue rapidly growing its top line, and it would certainly feed off of increased volatility and fear from investors, its earnings history is riddled with misses, and it's still valued somewhat aggressively at 37 times forward earnings. If I were looking for a miner to invest in, I would suggest looking elsewhere, as there are better values to be had than the currently unprofitable Silver Standard Resources.
Branded apparel retailer Burlington Stores (NYSE: BURL ) jumped 8.3% for the day after it announced the launch of a debt-refinancing transaction this morning, and updated its comparable same-store sales guidance for the second quarter.
As the press release notes, Burlington is seeking a commitment from its lenders for a new credit facility in the amount of $1.2 billion that would consist of a single tranche of loans due to mature in 2021. Burlington anticipates that gaining these concessions from its lenders would result in $0.13-$0.14 per share in additional EPS for the second half of 2014, and $0.27-$0.30 on a pro forma basis for 2014.
Also, Burlington updated its same-store sales guidance for the second quarter to a fresh range of 3%-4% growth from a previous projection of 2%-3% growth. Although gross margin is expected to be similar to its previous quarterly guidance, Burlington did announce an expected 10 to 20 basis-point improvement in its adjusted EBITDA margin rate compared to the prior year.
It's definitely good news to see Burlington outperforming in a tough retail environment, and it demonstrates just how important having brand-name merchandise is to drawing consumers in its stores. However, following today's move higher, the company isn't nearly as attractive on a valuation basis. At 18 times forward earnings, an overall growth rate of 6% with organic growth of 3%-4% just doesn't seem too enticing. Given the company's lack of a dividend, I believe you have enough of a reason to pass on Burlington.
Finally, sleep-solutions company Select Comfort (NASDAQ: SCSS ) will allow its shareholders to sleep easier tonight after reporting better-than-expected second-quarter earnings results that sent its shares higher by 8.3%. For the quarter, Select Comfort saw its sales improve 13%, to $235 million, as same-store sales rose 7% from the year-ago period. Adjusted EPS, however, fell to $0.16 from $0.18 in Q2 2013. Comparably speaking, though, Wall Street was only expecting Select Comfort to earn $0.14 per share on $224 million in sales. Furthermore, Select Comfort announced its intention to open 20 to 30 stores in 2014, and reaffirmed its prior full-year EPS guidance of $1.07.
Select Comfort didn't go deeply into the specifics of why their sales improved other than to mention that their new innovations are beginning to take hold with consumers. This is good news, as innovation is what keeps the top-line growing organically, and what keeps investors happy. Then again, sleep-solution sales (i.e., mattresses and sleep products) have been erratic even following industry consolidation, and 16 times forward earnings could be a bit pricey for a company that has missed EPS estimates in the prior three quarters. For now, I'd suggest watching this company from the sidelines.
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