The markets were a little shaky this week, in part because of President Donald Trump's tweet storm and firing of FBI Director James Comey. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average both tumbled 0.35% and 0.53%, respectively, for the week, although both continue to trade near record highs.
With that said, there were plenty of stocks making big moves or big headlines as earnings season winds down. Here are highlights from a CEO on the hot seat, a gaming stock on fire (in a good way) and a retailer shaking things up.
On the hot seat
Whether it's sports or stocks, coaches or CEOs, nobody likes to be on the hot seat. However, for both Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) investors and CEO Mark Fields, his seat is heating up. A few days before Ford's annual meeting of shareholders on May 11, it was reported that the automaker's board of directors was applying pressure on Fields about his strategy to improve profits faster and how best to light a fire under a stagnant share price.
"This is the first public sign that the board is becoming impatient," said David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar Inc., according to Automotive News. "It's likely proof that the board is frustrated with the stock price languishing for the past several years. It may be a grilling session for Mark."
It's easy to share frustration with the stock price, and despite a bumpy first quarter, the company has generated record level profits in recent years, but rather than sending its stock price soaring, it merely sent its valuation multiples lower. Fields is in between a rock and a hard spot, because the company's long-term future can't afford to ignore the evolution of autonomous vehicles, smart mobility projects, and the electrification of vehicle fleets. Those cost a lot of money to develop now, and the payoff is far down the road. Adding to the tense mood surrounding Ford, the board of directors, and investors, was news that Chantel Lenard, executive director of U.S. marketing and a 25-year Ford employee, will leave in June to "pursue other interests," according to Ford.
There's no great answer for the folks at the Blue Oval, or Fields for that matter, because the market is what it is. It rewards Tesla, which is burning through cash at a record rate and selling a handful of vehicles compared to Ford, yet with a market capitalization larger than Ford's. Fields' seat is growing hotter, but let's be honest: Who would better serve Ford in the CEO position right now?
This game is far from over
Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) is an intriguing stock if it can capitalize not only on its games but also on the emerging trend of e-sports, which is a form of competition on electronic systems and video games. Even though e-sports just recently emerged onto the mainstream stage, rather than being limited to a niche of serious gamers, EA's stock has been absolutely soaring on the backs of its number of games -- its stock price is up a staggering 650% over the past five years. And if the company's recent fiscal fourth quarter is any indication, which pushed the stock 15% higher on Wednesday, this game is far from over.
Revenue was up 16.7% during the fourth quarter to $1.53 billion, which was better than analysts' estimates calling for $1.49 billion. And don't let the company's net income percentage decline fool you -- it was down 37% to $566 million -- because that was largely an issue with an income-tax credit during last year's quarter. That $566 million net income equated to $1.81 per share, which was far ahead of the $1.63 analysts had expected.
In all, this was a brilliant year from EA, as it generated record net sales and operating cash flow for the year, driven by groundbreaking games and its continued improvement in the digital and mobile world of games. Here's part of a quote from CFO Blake Jorgensen that caught my eye: "Our long-term vision, to leverage deep player engagement to drive growth and profitability, is enabling us to execute on our near-term financial goals to increase revenue, earnings, and cash generation."
To me, deep player engagement goes hand-in-hand with the spreading and increasingly popular e-sports niche, which fills tournaments with professional and dedicated players. With the stock's 650% increase over the past five years, investors could be cautious about jumping in now, but this could still be the early innings of a long-term winner.
Are the good times gone?
Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) was a massive success story for investors between 2009 and 2014, but since then it's been tough sledding and a growth story stuck in neutral. Investors were left even more confused after a week that delivered second-quarter results as well as an announced switch-up with its board of directors and chief financial officer.
As far as financial information goes, Whole Foods delivered roughly in line with analysts' estimates. Revenue checked in at $3.74 billion, just above estimates, and its earnings per share checked in at $0.37, matching the analysts. On the downside, its comparable-store sales declined 2.8%, and the board-of-directors shake-up overshadowed much of the earnings release.
More specifically, five new independent members were nominated to replace the same amount of retiring directors. The moves come after activist investor Jana Partners, which owns a 9% stake in Whole Foods, applied pressure in hopes management would focus on operational improvements and look to sell the company.
With all the drama going on, it's easy to lose sight of what matters: Management simply needs to focus on returning to positive comparable-store sales and earnings by the end of its next fiscal year. If it can do that, many of its issues will solve themselves.