There was absolutely no mixed economic data today. It was just plain disappointing in every respect.
The ADP employment report released this morning showed that the U.S. economy added 158,000 jobs in March, which was well below the roughly 215,000 jobs that economists had been forecasting. Don't get me wrong: 158,000 jobs is nothing to sneeze at, but it's only enough to keep unemployment levels steady as it keeps up with population growth.
The Federal Reserve put a further scare in the market when a top official noted that it may begin cutting back on its aggressive $85 billion bond-buying program -- a mixture of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities -- as early as this summer if the economy continues to pick up strength. That didn't sit well with skittish investors, either.
Tack on U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's comments about North Korea representing a threat to the U.S., and you have all the makings of a miserable day on Wall Street. The broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) fell a whopping 16.56 points (-1.05%) to close at 1,553.69. Although it was a grim day overall, three companies within the index did a good job of bucking the pessimism.
Today's biggest upside surprise came from teen-based retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) which jumped 3.8% after outlining aggressive expansion plans and growth initiatives. Abercrombie, which has struggled in recent months because of weakness in Europe, laid out plans to expand into Australia, Japan, and Dubai through its Hollister brand. What likely caught investors' attention more than anything was the targeted 15% EPS growth rate moving forward. While I agree that Abercrombie will find success overseas, I'm thinking its targeted growth rate may be a bit lofty considering spending weakness in the U.S. and European markets, which make up the majority of its revenue, still persist.
Iron ore and metallurgical coal miner Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF) gained 3% after JPMorgan added the company to its focus list and placed an overweight rating on the company with a $40 price target (which would imply around 120% upside from yesterday's close). I rarely advocate paying analyst actions much regard, but this is a case where my opinion of Cliffs, which I outlined just days ago, and JPMorgan's, perfectly align. A rebounding U.S. construction market coupled with increased steel demand from China should create the perfect conditions to eventually boost metallurgical coal and iron ore prices.
Finally, department store Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) showed signs of life, advancing 2.9%, following an SEC filing showed that one of its directors, Stephanie Streeter, purchased 2,500 shares of Kohl's stock. The amount of the purchase is relatively minimal in the grand scheme of things, but directors often have first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of a company. Director purchases, therefore, are often a cue to investors that things could be improving. As for me, I'm perfectly happy keeping my distance from Kohl's, which has a nasty habit of falling under the margin machete because of excess discounting.