Wednesday was a neutral day on Wall Street, and major stock-market benchmarks drifted on either side of the "unchanged" mark before closing down less than a tenth of a percent. Most market commentators again blamed the lackluster trading activity on reluctance to take strong positions before knowing which direction the Federal Reserve is likely to go with interest rates. In addition, attention to the new iPhone 7 launch distracted some of the attention from the broader market.
Even with the market's lack of conviction, several stocks posted solid gains. Among the top performers were Apache Corp. (NASDAQ:APA), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), and Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG).
Apache makes a big find
Apache climbed 7% after the oil company announced that it had discovered what it called a "significant new resource play" in western Texas. The Alpine High tract in the southern part of the Delaware Basin geological formation could bring the company 3 billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The company said it has identified between 2,000 and 3,000 future drilling locations in just a couple of the formations involved in the find, and Apache CEO John Christmann noted that the company's decision to focus on internal development rather than external acquisitions has paid off.
Clearly, Apache will be best able to pursue its discovery profitably if oil prices rise, but investors were happy with the discovery, even with the energy markets still at relatively low levels.
Delta flies higher
Delta Air Lines gained 6% in the wake of its disclosure of materials it will present to an investor conference. The airline said that its computer outage will cost the company about $150 million in pre-tax income, causing a loss of a percentage point on unit revenue.
Yet Delta remains confident that it will be the first airline to return to positive unit-revenue growth. Plans to emphasize its business travel segment in the U.S. and modernization efforts to make its aircraft fleet more efficient should pay off in helping Delta reach its long-term goals, and the airline believes that its strategies are more shareholder-friendly than some of its rivals.
Delta helped pull up much of the airline sector today, and with cheap fuel lasting longer than many expected, Delta could continue to fare well in the foreseeable future.
Chipotle attracts activist interest
Finally, Chipotle Mexican Grill rose 6%. Activist investor Bill Ackman said that his Pershing Square hedge fund had taken a 9.9% stake in the fast-casual burrito chain, and he expects to talk with Chipotle's management team in the near future to discuss ways to help the struggling restaurant operator get its positive momentum back. Ever since foodborne-illness concerns arose last year, Chipotle has suffered falling comparable-restaurant sales and a general loss of confidence in its future.
Despite Ackman's mixed track record, many Chipotle shareholders believe that he can lend credibility to turnaround efforts and help the stock recover some of its lost ground. Some other analysts are uncertain about the economics of the purchase, and time will tell whether Ackman can profit, where skeptics see only doubt about Chipotle's future growth.