Despite last month's better-than-expected vehicle sales, blue-chip stocks are generally lower following a disappointing jobs report and a downbeat earnings report from Merck (NYSE:MRK). With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is off by 93 points, or 0.63%.
All three of the large domestic automakers posted expectation-beating sales for the month of April. Ford (NYSE:F) led the way with sales growing 18%, followed by both General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Chrysler, coming in at 11% each.
Pickup trucks performed particularly well. At Ford, the best-selling F-series showed a 24% year-over-year improvement. According to a sales analyst at the company, "The full-size pickup truck segment continues to show signs of strength, supported by replacement demand and the recovery in housing." Meanwhile, GM sold 28% more of its Chevy Silverado, and Chrysler notched an astounding 49% growth in Dodge Ram sales.
Shares of Ford and General Motors (Chrysler isn't publically traded) are nevertheless trending lower this afternoon on the heels of today's disappointing jobs report.
Private research company ADP Research Institute released data this morning showing that domestic private-sector companies added fewer workers than expected last month. For the 30 days ended April 30, there was a 119,000-job increase in employment. This was the smallest number of additions since September and fell far short the 150,000 anticipated by economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
The primary culprit seems to be the "significant fiscal headwinds" that are discouraging firms from investing and attempting to grow. As Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi said in a statement quoted by Bloomberg, "Tax increases and government spending cuts are beginning to hit the job market."
The silver lining to all of this is that the Federal Reserve issued a statement today that it will continue its easy monetary policy despite concerns that it may reduce support for the economy. According to the central bank, "Labor market conditions have shown some improvement in recent months, on balance, but the unemployment rate remains elevated." It also observed that "longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable." It's for these reasons that the bank decided to carry on with its purchase of $85 billion in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities each month in hopes of igniting a more robust recovery.
In terms of individual stocks, while earnings season is starting to wind down, a number of high-profile blue-chip companies continue to trickle in. Yesterday, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) disappointed analysts with worse-than-expected results from the first three months of the year. While its earnings only missed estimates by $0.02 per share, the bigger concern was its 9% drop in revenue and tempered forward guidance.
Today, its competitor Merck followed suit. As my colleague Dan Dzombak discussed earlier, the pharmaceutical company reported a 14% year-over-year drop in EPS and a 9% fall in top-line revenue. In response, Merck stock is currently the worst-performing component of the Dow, down 3%.