Wednesday morning brought considerable gains for major benchmarks, as market participants seemed generally pleased with the results of the Super Tuesday primary elections. A surge for former Vice President Joe Biden gave the candidate several state victories in Tuesday's races, and investors seem to prefer the prospect of a Democratic nominee with more moderate views than one with clearer antagonism toward certain aspects of the business community. As of 11 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.27%) was up 547 points to 26,464. The S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.07%) rose 55 points to 3,058, and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC 0.00%) gained 144 points to 8,828.
Healthcare stocks did quite well in response to the elections, and UnitedHealth Group (UNH 1.43%) in particular mounted a sizable recovery. Yet in the retail sector, earnings from Nordstrom (JWN -4.68%) painted a less rosy picture.
A clean bill of health for UnitedHealth Group
Shares of UnitedHealth Group jumped 10% as shareholders cheered the primary results. Key victories for Biden over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised the likelihood that the Democratic nominee might not have as hostile a view toward health insurance companies as feared.
Sanders has long espoused Medicare for All, with the idea that existing health insurers like UnitedHealth would have their coverage entirely replaced by an expansion of the Medicare and Medicaid programs at the federal level. That stance poses an existential threat to much of UnitedHealth Group's business, and even though its non-insurance operations could presumably continue, they'd also have to see major changes to adapt to the changing environment if Medicare for All actually became law.
Biden, on the other hand, played a role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which included a much more extensive role for private insurance. Even if Biden were willing to accept some suggestions for progressive reforms to Obamacare, it's unlikely that he would swing all the way toward scrapping the program in favor of a Medicare-for-All type approach.
Trends in the presidential campaign are likely to keep shifting over time, so UnitedHealth can't count itself in the clear just yet. Nevertheless, shareholders feel a lot more comfortable now than they did before last night.
Another tough holiday season for Nordstrom
Shares of Nordstrom were down 4% Wednesday morning. The upscale department store retailer reported fourth-quarter financial results Tuesday afternoon, and investors weren't satisfied with the company's holiday performance.
Nordstrom saw net sales for the holiday quarter rise just 1.3%, with net income falling more than 20% from year-earlier levels. Digital sales growth came in at a somewhat healthier 9%, but full-price revenue gains were limited to just 1%. The quarter capped a tough year for Nordstrom, as 2019 revenue was down 2.2% due to weakness in its full-price store segment.
Investors also seemed concerned about Nordstrom's outlook for 2020. The company expects revenue growth to remain muted, in a range of 1.5% to 2.5%. Earnings of $3.25 to $3.50 per share similarly indicates little improvement from the $3.37 per share in adjusted earnings that Nordstrom posted for the 2019 year.
Nordstrom has struggled for a long time now, as even the retailer's reputation for customer service and a premium experience haven't been enough to shelter the stock from the challenges posed by e-commerce competition. Nordstrom's plan to keep expanding and bolstering its off-price segment might produce short-term growth, but it's not the kind of radical transformation that some investors seem to be looking for.