Given how negatively the market reacted early this week to renewed fears in Europe, it seemed the days of record-high closes for the stock market might be at an end. But this morning, as investors wait for the Federal Reserve to give its latest guidance on its plans for managing U.S. monetary policy, the mood is optimistic. As of 10:45 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) were up 69 points, flirting with their record highs. It would take an 84-point gain for the Dow to set a new record, and the S&P 500 is just half a percent or so away from its own record high.
Among Dow stocks, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) has risen 1.5% as it holds its annual shareholder meeting today. Given the number of setbacks the company has had to deal with recently -- most notably the multibillion-dollar writedown of its botched Autonomy acquisition -- the meeting could prove contentious. Some analysts believe shareholders may take the extremely unusual step of voting out sitting directors on HP's board after proxy-services company ISS recommended votes against three directors. Still, investors need to focus less on placing blame and more on whether the company's turnaround will continue.
On the down side, Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) fell another 1.3% as it announced a 13% drop in sales among its worldwide network of dealers. The drops were widespread geographically, including a massive 26% decline in the Asia-Pacific sector and losses of 12% in North America. Until buying activity bounces back, it'll be hard for Caterpillar to rebound from its recent share-price weakness.
Outside the Dow, Francesca's Holdings (OTC:FRAN) has gained 6.4% after beating earnings and revenue estimates in its fourth-quarter results last night. Same-store sales came in 9.2% higher, and the retailer gave positive guidance for the current quarter. Given the number of retailers that have seen weak holiday quarters, Francesca's bucked the trend, and investors are getting rewarded for it.
Finally, trucking company Con-Way (NYSE: CNW) fell 3.9% after giving a guidance update on its current quarter last night. The company reported that its anticipated weight-per-day of transported goods would fall 1.5% during the quarter, citing adverse weather, field training expenses, and one-time charges and reserves for the impact on profitability. In response, an analyst firm downgraded the stock, although the company says its longer-term initiatives are still working.