After three straight days of down markets, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) scored a solid victory today, gaining 56 points, or 0.4%, as anticipation, and later the delivery, of the Fed's Open Market Committee report seemed to push stocks higher. The Dow opened strong, but then faded slightly during the day before getting a jolt when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke at 2 p.m.
Bernanke essentially repeated his remarks from past presentations, saying the Fed would continue its $85 billion a month bond-buying program until the unemployment pictures significantly improves. He did allow that economic growth has rebounded to a moderate pace and said that the central bank may take steps to reduce the quantitative easing as the labor market gets better. Investors tend to favor the Fed's stimulus and sent stocks up as Bernanke conveyed its continued need.
Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) was the Dow's poorest performer for the second day in a row, falling 1.5% after reporting a 13% drop in sales of its power equipment for the three-month period ending in February. The Asia-Pacific region was particularly poor, declining 26%, and even North American sales fell 12% despite the domestic economic recovery. Caterpillar had previously warned that profits could decline this year as miners and builders have been hesitant to begin new projects.
Often seen as a bellwether for the global economy, FedEx finished down 6.9% after its earnings per share of $1.23 missed estimates of $1.38. CEO Fred Smith blamed the miss on "weakness in international air freight markets." The shipping company is planning to reduce capacity in Asia in response to lower demand. It also lowered its EPS guidance for the year to $6.00-$6.20, below estimates of $6.35.
Oracle shares were also down sharply after hours, falling 7.2% after the software giant said revenue slid 1% to $9 billion, below expectations of $9.38 billion, while adjusted earnings per share of $0.65 missed estimates by a penny. The tech titan blamed the sales drop on a young sales force, as it has quickly expanded its global sales team in recent months. Revenue in both hardware and software declined as Oracle faces increased competition in cloud computing from companies such as IBM.