In all likelihood, Wednesday won't go down as a memorable day on the stock exchange.
This doesn't mean it was a bad one by any means. Several top stocks -- including one I'll explore below -- delivered better-than-expected earnings. Also, there were other encouraging developments pushing some of the major indexes slightly higher. Let's take a look at two stocks that rose well above the cautious market on Hump Day.
Well, this was unexpected.
General Electric (NYSE:GE), a blue chip stock that has fallen on hard times, reported Q4 of fiscal 2019 results that convincingly beat analyst estimates.
For the period, General Electric's total sales dipped by 1% on a year-over-year basis to $26.2 billion. That, however, was comfortably above the average analyst estimate of $25.3 billion.
Non-GAAP (adjusted) net income landed at $1.85 billion, or $0.21 per share; the Q4 2018 tally for the latter was $0.17. Analysts had been projecting $0.17 for this latest quarter.
General Electric's better-than-expected performance was helped by its traditional area of strength -- industrial products. In particular its aviation division delivered a nearly 6% growth improvement in sales, on the back of a 22% increase in orders.
The company's forecast for the ever-important industrial end of its business was encouraging. Organic revenue should rise in the low-single-digit percentage range in fiscal 2020, with free cash flow of $2 billion to $4 billion -- therefore likely coming in higher than 2019's $2.3 billion. Adjusted per-share net profit should be $0.50 to $0.60.
General Electric's surprise was a happy one for investors -- the stock closed over 10% higher on Wednesday. That's heartening, but we should keep in mind that the company is still struggling with high amounts of debt (despite some admirable "de-leveraging"), among numerous other challenges. I'd be cautious on this stock despite the newfound optimism.
Somewhat paradoxically, clothier L Brands (NYSE:LB) rose high on Wednesday (by almost 13%) on reports that it might cease to exist in its present form.
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, citing "people familiar with the matter," long-serving CEO Les Wexner is in talks with private equity firm Sycamore Partners to step down from his position. Additionally, the parties involved are discussing "strategic alternatives" for iconic brand Victoria's Secret; this could mean a spinoff or sale of the famous lingerie retailer.
This isn't the first time that a breakup of the company has been mentioned as a possibility. When activist investor Barrington Group bought into L Brands last year, it called for management to consider not only breaking off Victoria's Secret, but launching an initial public offering (IPO) for another one of its retailers: Bath & Body Works, which Barrington Group correctly described as displaying "exceptional performance."
Additionally, Wexner's reputation has suffered due to his longtime association with the late, controversial financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Wexner has been an effective and capable chief executive at L Brands, but after almost 60 years in charge, it's probably time for some new blood. L Brands' performance hasn't been bad lately, but it hasn't been all that inspiring, either. Bath & Body Works is a successful outlier within the group, so maybe Barrington Group's idea is a good one. We'll see how far it goes.
Until we get some clarity on Wexner's future and what might happen with the "strategic alternatives," though, I wouldn't get excited about any potential changes at L Brands. It's probably best to leave the stock alone, particularly after this overly hopeful pop in its price.