The broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) was off to the races from the word "Go" today, and it has Ben Bernanke and a very accommodating Federal Reserve to thank for it. Bernanke, in his comments, noted that the economy is showing sustained improvement but saw no reason for the Fed to discontinue its $85 billion bond-buying program until it's convinced that the economy's gains are sustainable. Bernanke reinforced the notion that a 6.5% unemployment level isn't a line in the sand whereby the stimulus will be cancelled, but he did mention that three-fourths of the Fed members agree that it'll be 2015 or 2016 before the Federal Funds target rate is increased.
This news was exactly what a skittish group of investors needed to hear, sending the S&P 500 higher by 10.37 points (0.67%) to close at 1,558.71. As you might imagine, on such a strong up day, there were quite a few outperformers.
Solar-panel producer First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) was the biggest gainer today, up nearly 6%. The move took advantage of a sweeping downtrend in Chinese manufacturer Suntech Power (OTC:STPFQ), which may need to seek insolvency relief. According to the report confirmed earlier today by Suntech, a group of eight Chinese banks are seeking the insolvency of Suntech’s largest solar unit, Wuxi Suntech Power, although its parent company hasn't agreed to seek insolvency. This is terrible news for Suntech shareholders but great news for U.S.-based solar manufacturers such as First Solar, which will benefit from less competition and less supply on the market.
Homebuilder Lennar (NYSE:LEN) was another outperformer, rising 4.8% after reporting better-than-expected first-quarter results. For the quarter, Lennar reported a 34% rise in new-home orders, a robust 13% jump in average selling prices, and a profit of $0.26 a share, which was a clean $0.11 higher than what Wall Street had expected. Lennar did note that the cost of labor and materials rose by 4% -- faster than in previous quarters -- but anticipates demand and average selling-price increases to more than offset these rising expenses. As long as housing inventories remain low -- especially on the foreclosure front -- then Lennar has a chance at maintaining its current valuation. I'm still very skeptical about valuations in this sector, with the possibility of future foreclosure waves hitting the market.
Finally, discount variety store Dollar General (NYSE:DG) jumped 4.2% on increasingly high hopes that it will report better-than-expected earnings results for the fourth quarter next week. Neither Wal-Mart nor Target has performed well of late, given the higher payroll tax and delayed tax refund scenario. This is expected to play into the hands of truly cost-conscious deep discounters such as Dollar General, which has done a good job of driving traffic into its stores with expanded grocery offerings.