The stock market didn't do well on Friday, giving up all of its gains for the week, and sending broader-based market benchmarks below key levels. After seeing the Dow climb above 18,000 and the S&P close all four days this week above 2,100 before falling back today, Friday's setback was disappointing. Yet short-term traders know that, with so much uncertainty in the financial markets right now, holding stocks even during a regular weekend can be riskier than they're willing to accept.
The market's decline could hold back every stock, but several names managed to give investors decent gains. Among the best performers on the day were Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA), Axiall (NYSE: AXLL), and AEP Industries (NASDAQ: AEPI).
Walgreens Boots Alliance rose nearly 4.5% after the drugstore chain's attempt to merge with rival Rite Aid got a vote of confidence from a favorable news report. According to the report from the New York Post, the Federal Trade Commission appears to be leaning toward approving the merger among the two major drugstore chains.
The FTC is likely to impose conditions on its acceptance of the merger, with one likely outcome being that the combined company might have to sell off some of its drugstore locations in areas where there's a lot of geographical overlap between the two chains. The question that regulators will have to answer is whether Walgreens will have a disruptive influence on pharmacy-benefit-management pricing, but consolidation in that industry has arguably allowed it to keep pace with the drug retail arena.
Axiall soared 26% in the wake of receiving a buyout bid from industry peer Westlake Chemical. The two chemical companies had been involved in an increasingly contentious battle over an earlier bid from roughly six months ago, in which Westlake had offered to pay $23.35 per share in cash and stock for Axiall. That offer had been rejected as too low, and that prompted Westlake to fight a proxy battle to try to name directors to the Axiall board to approve the deal.
Instead of moving forward in that direction, Westlake chose to increase its bid to $33 per share in an all-cash deal. Axiall accepted that increased bid, and Axiall CEO Timothy Mann, Jr. said that he believes that the "strategic combination will drive significant value for our customers and business partners as we create a North American chlorovinyls leader." For shareholders, getting an extra $9 to $10 per share in compensation is definitely a win, as well.
Finally, AEP Industries gained more than 10%. The maker of flexible plastic-packaging products for the consumer, industrial, and agricultural markets released its fiscal second-quarter financial report Thursday afternoon, and AEP's results included a 24% rise in net income despite seeing sales fall by 4% from year-ago levels. The company said that a drop in average selling prices was due in significant part to the pass-through of lower resin raw-material costs, but sales volumes were up 3% from the year-earlier period.
Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization jumped by more than half, hitting levels that AEP had never seen in any quarter. CEO Brendan Barba noted that the results "confirm our strategy implemented in recent years to build capacity and infrastructure in spite of challenging resin markets." Given the share-price gains, it appears that AEP has been correct with its recent moves.