Whereas the market could do no wrong in the previous two days, everything conspired to send the broad-based S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.09%) lower today.
U.S. retail sales figures were particularly weak, showing a decline of 0.4%. This was the second time in the first quarter that retail sales figures have been in the red, and would definitely signal that higher payroll taxes, and delayed tax refunds, are hurting the ability of consumers to spend.
Consumer sentiment was another sticking point, with the measure of consumer optimism regarding the economy falling to a nine-month low, at 72.3. Even with a rebound in the housing sector, the prospect of higher taxes, and a still-tough job environment, isn't sitting well with many.
Tack onto this a monstrous tumble in spot gold prices which fell below $1500/oz. for the first time since 2011, and you have the perfect recipe for a down day.
Overall, the S&P 500 finished lower by 4.52 points (-0.28%) to close at 1,588.85. In spite of today's poor economic news, three stocks managed to shine.
Today's biggest gainer was network storage solutions provider NetApp (NTAP 0.36%), which has been whipsawed this week because of analyst upgrades and downgrades. On Wednesday, UBS downgraded NetApp to "neutral" from "buy," because it sees rising demand for software-as-a-service, which NetApp isn't ready to offer its clients just yet. Instead, UBS upgraded IBM because it feels that the company is better positioned to take advantage of an enterprise shift into the cloud. TheStreet.com yesterday did its part to buoy NetApp by reiterating its "buy" rating on the company on the basis of increasing profits, revenue, and cash flow, among other factors. One thing to keep in mind is that analysts' actions are rarely long-term price movers, so do your best to ignore this white noise because your original investment thesis on NetApp (should you own it) is likely unchanged. Shares rebounded from earlier weakness this week to gain 6%.
Specialty home-accessories retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) tacked on 4.3% just two days after reporting its full-year results. A Seeking Alpha article that alluded to the company as a possible takeover candidate certainly didn't hurt its move higher today, but this seems to be a stronger play on a rebound in the housing market than anything else. Although retail sales figures disappointed today, it's strongly believed that housing strength can overcome a temporary lull in fashion-related apparel sales. I admit to still not being a huge fan of Bed Bath & Beyond from an investing perspective, but my opinion could be swayed if housing continues to remain strong.
Finally, biotech behemoth Biogen Idec (BIIB 2.90%) rose 3.4% following an upgrade and a price target hike by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. The brokerage arm upped Biogen to a "buy" rating from "neutral," and bumped its price target from $187, to $246. Given the recent approval of multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera, it's not hard to see why analysts would be optimistic about Biogen's future. Although I'd much prefer to see a pullback, I feel chances are good that shareholders will be up on their investment when they look back five or 10 years from now.