The trend of weak economic data continued for a second straight day today, although this time, it got the better of the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC).
The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics certainly squashed investors' hopes earlier today when it reported that the Consumer Price Index for April fell 0.4% over the previous month. This measure of inflation would signal that the prices that consumers are paying for comparable baskets of goods is falling. This might appear to be great news, but is actually terrible news for businesses. Inflation is a tightly defined line: too much, and the consumer is in trouble; not enough, and businesses lose their pricing power.
Jobless claims also proved to be a sticking point, surging 32,000, to a seasonally adjusted 360,000 from the previous week's five-and-a-half year low. The job market has been demonstrating a slow-but-steady recovery, so this week's boost may not be too much to worry about. Then again, it's a reminder that the jobs market is still quite fragile.
Overall, the S&P 500 finished lower by 8.31 points (-0.50%), to close at 1,650.47. While the market may have finished lower, three companies flexed their muscles and headed much higher on the day.
Running away from the pack today was network equipment maker Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), which vaulted higher by 12.6% after reporting better-than-expected third-quarter results. Cisco delivered a 5% increase in sales, to $12.2 billion, on a 6% increase in EPS, to $0.51, as its gross margin expanded by 110 basis points. Comparatively speaking, Wall Street was anticipating just $0.49 in EPS. Also, Cisco's fourth-quarter forecast was, for a change, in line with the Street's forecasts. As my Foolish colleague Brian Pacampara pointed out, it signals undeniable strength in the networking market. Even after today's rally, Cisco is valued at a reasonable 11 times forward earnings, with a net cash balance in excess of $31 billion. To say that I feel it represents an intriguing value here would be an egregious understatement.
Sticking with the tech theme, network storage solutions specialist NetApp (NASDAQ:NTAP) advanced 6.2% after a report from Bloomberg noted that activist investor Elliott Management had taken a large stake in the company. The report also points out that Elliott Management would be expected to make changes to NetApp's board, and institute a cash return strategy to shareholders. While unconfirmed, the prospect of NetApp doing something with its $4.5 billion in net cash would definitely be a bonus for current shareholders. This is a situation that bears close monitoring.
Finally, fiber optic component supplier JDS Uniphase (NASDAQ:VIAV) gained 4.9% after announcing the early repayment of $160.6 million in notes with available cash on hand. I'd certainly consider this market-driving news, but I feel Cisco has more to do with JDS' move today than anything else. We're really starting to see a trickle-down effect from service providers like AT&T, which has committed $14 billion to its wireless networking expansion over the next three years. That expansion generates the need for faster data transmission via fiber optic cable, and pushes that capital further down the line to networking companies like Cisco, which are capable of handling and routing bigger and faster data loads. This entire supply chain looks like a great value at the moment.