The stock market started Wednesday mixed as investors tried to parse through statements in the State of the Union address while keeping their eyes focused on the state of the economy. As of 11:15 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up by just 5 points to 25,416. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) eased lower by 3 points to 2,735, while the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) saw the biggest decline, falling 12 points to 7,390.
Amid cross-currents affecting various sectors of the economy differently, key players in the consumer space drew attention today. Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has had to respond to tremors in vehicle demand by cutting prices, while Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) is looking to prove that it's put its past challenges behind it and is poised to return to the high-growth trends that it enjoyed early in its history as a fast-casual restaurant pioneer.
Tesla makes more cuts
Shares of Tesla were down less than 1% on Wednesday morning as investors responded to the latest news from the electric vehicle manufacturer. Tesla said that it would reduce the price of its Model 3 mass-market sedan by another $1,100, bringing the starting price down to $42,900. The move is the second one that Tesla has made so far this year, adding to price reductions of as much as $2,000 that took effect in January.
Tesla is facing pressure on multiple fronts. Deliveries of Model 3 vehicles during the fourth quarter of 2018 were lower than expected, and the reduction in the value of federal tax credits available to purchasers of electric vehicles has essentially boosted the after-tax price that U.S. consumers have to pay on a Model 3. Yet even as Tesla looks to keep sales strong, it's also facing a key debt maturity that has investors watching the stock closely. If shares can rise substantially from here during February, it would open up options for Tesla to use a combination of stock and cash to repay bondholders, and that would be easier for the company to handle than making an all-cash payoff.
At this point, Tesla's working hard to try to establish itself as a viable long-term contender in the auto industry. Yet as the company goes through painful cost-cutting measures while still trying to ramp up production, Tesla will have to be careful not to do anything that could damage its reputation among a loyal base of potential buyers.
Chipotle hopes for spicy earnings
Meanwhile, Chipotle Mexican Grill investors are looking forward to getting the latest reading on the burrito maker's financial progress. Shares were down just 0.5% on Wednesday morning, but the company's scheduled to reveal its fourth-quarter report after the end of regular trading this afternoon.
Chipotle made a huge comeback in 2018, and the stock price has doubled over the past year. Investor expectations are reasonably modest, with hopes for a 7% gain in revenue with earnings coming in flat from year-ago levels. So far, shareholders have generally just been happy to see a lack of new controversial problems with food-borne illness, and initiatives to boost prices have led to incremental revenue increases.
In the long run, though, Chipotle needs to establish that it has not only won back its core audience but can get back on a growth trajectory. Customer counts have actually been falling recently, keeping comparable-restaurant sales growth relatively muted. Bullish investors hope that the company can draw more people into its restaurants, and also get them to spend greater amounts there. If the burrito giant can pull that off, then the stock could get even hotter moving forward in 2019.