On an otherwise quiet day in terms of economic news, stocks are nevertheless up considerably thanks to better-than-expected earnings reports from consumer darlings Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Tiffany (NYSE:TIF). With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is higher by 83 points, or 0.58%.
Shares of Nike are surging 11.6% after the company reported that its fiscal third-quarter earnings beat expectations. Analysts were particularly impressed by its performance in China. According to Bloomberg News, orders for the Nike brand in the world's second-largest economy increased last quarter after contracting during the two preceding time periods.
In addition, the sporting-goods company's gross margin increased 30 basis points to 44.2%. "Nike is firing on all cylinders," an analyst quoted by Bloomberg said. "They've been talking about, for several years now, expecting gross margins to eventually turn. And now it looks like that has played out."
Shares of Tiffany & Co. are similarly up following the company's fourth-quarter earnings release. While its bottom-line figure rose by only 0.7% on a year-over-year basis, it was weighed down by "headquarters relocation costs," noted The Wall Street Journal. The market nevertheless responded favorably after the company reiterated its full-year guidance, even though it's forecasting an underwhelming first quarter. According to Michael J. Kowalski, Tiffany's chairman and chief executive officer:
These quarterly sales results were consistent with the holiday trends we had issued in early January. While financial results in fiscal 2012 were disappointing due to lower-than-expected sales growth and pressures on gross margin, we continued to maintain a longer-term focus on strengthening global awareness of the Tiffany & Co. brand and on further developing compelling product offerings.
Best- and worst-performing Dow stocks
In terms of Dow stocks, the index's best-performing component today is Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), which is up 2.9% in afternoon trading. As my colleague Dan Dzombak noted this morning, the ailing technology company held its annual shareholders meeting earlier this week. Among other issues on the agenda was a highly contested vote on whether three of the company's directors would be re-elected to the board after proxy firm Institutional Shareholder Services recommended they be removed. While all three "squeaked by" with favorable votes of 54% to 58%, as Dan observed, "Typically, votes with less than a 70% majority are looked upon unfavorably."
Alternatively, the worst-performing stock on the Dow this afternoon is UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH), down by 1.1% at the time of writing. Scanning the news, there doesn't appear to be a specific catalyst to explain the weakness. Despite this, according to fellow Fool Matt Thalman, a "massive amount of uncertainty" continues to plague health care stocks as the industry adapts to Obamacare and changes to proposed payments under Medicare. It's for this reason that Matt implores new investors to "stay away from the company until its future is clearer."