Major benchmarks moved higher on Wednesday as market participants tried to parse through key events in Washington. Investors are grappling with the implications of recent moves to initiate impeachment-related proceedings on Capitol Hill, and economic data aren't providing a clear signal of the health of the business community globally. As of 11:15 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up 138 points to 26,946. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) picked up 8 points to 2,974, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) was higher by 28 points to 8,022.
One big move came from the mergers and acquisitions front, where Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) and Altria Group (NYSE:MO) announced that they would no longer pursue merger discussions. Meanwhile, athletic apparel giant Nike (NYSE:NKE) reported its latest financial results, and the signs point toward continued strength from the shoemaker as it aims to capture more of its global audience.
Up in smoke
Shares of Philip Morris International and Altria were mixed Wednesday morning following their announcement that they had ceased merger discussions. Philip Morris shares were up almost 7%, while Altria eased lower by a fraction of a percent.
The announcement was brief, with Philip Morris CEO Andre Calantzopoulos saying that "after much deliberation, the companies have agreed to focus on launching IQOS in the U.S. as part of their mutual interest to achieve a smoke-free future." Some summary information about IQOS followed, but there were no comments from Altria executives about the talks or the decision to end them.
Investors had been similarly uncertain when news of the start of merger talks surfaced in late August. Philip Morris shares fell sharply, as it seemed likely that it would have to offer a premium to Altria shareholders to buy out the U.S. tobacco giant. Despite the benefits of integrating global operations, worries about regulation and possible strategic differences weighed on the prospects for the combination.
In the end, it's likely that controversy surrounding Altria's investment in Juul Labs played a role in ending the talks. Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulators agree on exactly how to handle e-cigarettes, it'll be tough for tobacco companies to evaluate how best to move forward in pursuing the full range of alternatives to conventional cigarettes.
Nike does it
Meanwhile, shares of Nike gained 5% following the Tuesday afternoon release of its fiscal first-quarter financial results. The footwear specialist overcame currency-related headwinds to post 7% revenue growth, and net income climbed 25% compared to year-earlier figures.
Performance in the core North American segment was solid. Footwear sales picked up 4%, and apparel sales rose 2% from year-ago levels.
Yet the real gains came from overseas. In Europe, revenue was higher by 6% overall and would have been up by 12% without the impact of the U.S. dollar weighing on results. The Asia-Pacific and Latin America segment saw similar growth, and Greater China showed the best results of all. Chinese revenue jumped 22% year over year, with strength across footwear, apparel, and equipment product lines.
Nike also sees the rest of the year going well, boosting its expected margin projections while continuing to see strong revenue gains. Despite fears of tariff-related impediments to growth, Nike isn't taking a huge hit from trade issues, and investors have high hopes that the company will be able to get past any roadblocks and ride the popularity of its brand to further success.