Despite continued concern over the fiscal cliff, stocks are trading higher today following a series of positive economic releases. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is up 36 points, or 0.28%, a little more than two hours into the trading session.
Data released this morning added further proof to claims that the housing market is recovering. The National Association of Realtors said that pending home sales rose 5.2% in October from a month earlier to their highest level in two and a half years. Economists are nevertheless expecting this figure to drop in November as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which battered the East Coast at the end of last month.
In addition, the Commerce Department raised its third-quarter GDP to 2.7% from an initial reading of 2%. Like home sales, the fourth-quarter GDP figure may also be affected by Sandy. According to Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher: "We will have a negative impact on fourth-quarter GDP from the effects of Sandy, but there's a rebuilding process and we'll have a positive impact in subsequent quarters."
Retailers getting hammered
Shares of Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) are down sharply after the company posted a rare profit in its fiscal second quarter. For the three months ended Oct. 27, the struggling retailer earned $2 million on sales of $1.88 billion compared to a year-ago loss of $7 million on sales of $1.89 billion. On a per-share basis, which includes payments to holders of preferred shares, the company recorded a loss of $0.04. According to The Wall Street Journal, analysts had expected a loss of $0.06 per share on $1.91 billion in revenue.
Last quarter marked the first period that Barnes & Noble had to comp against boosted sales related to the liquidation of Borders, its primary bricks-and-mortar competitor. The retail segment, which includes both its physical stores and sales from bn.com, saw revenues decrease by 3% compared to the same time period last year due to flat same-store sales, store closures, and lower revenue from its website. Sales in the company's college division increased 0.4% compared to 2011 thanks to new store growth.
Meanwhile, sales from its digital book division increased 6% on a year-over-year basis. The company recently released two new devices to help it compete in the increasingly competitive tablet arena. Just recently, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) released a smaller version of its iPad and both Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), the latter of which also recently entered into a strategic partnership with Barnes & Noble's Nook division, introduced devices into the market in the lead-up to the holiday shopping season.
In addition to Barnes & Noble, shares of Tiffany (NYSE:TIF) are trading significantly lower after the company's third-quarter earnings missed expectations by sliding 30%. For the quarter, the diamond retailer posted earnings per share of $0.49 on revenue of $853 million. Analysts were expecting EPS of $0.63 on sales of $859 million. And in the same quarter last year, the company reported EPS of $0.70. Tiffany also cut its full-year earnings outlook to a range of $3.20 to $3.40 per share down from its prior forecast of $3.55 to $3.70 per share.
According to Michael Kowalski, Tiffany's chairman and chief executive officer:
Three months ago, we had anticipated that third quarter results would be affected by continued economic weakness in many markets as well as by challenging comparisons to last year when net sales were up 21% and net earnings had increased 52% excluding nonrecurring items. However, gross margin was weaker than we expected and Tiffany's effective tax rate was higher than we expected. As a result, net earnings were below our expectations.
Shares of Tiffany are currently down by more than 8% in intraday trading.