Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
In similar fashion to yesterday, a lack of economic data cast the potential for a debt default, the ongoing federal government shutdown, and third-quarter corporate earnings into full focus. As for the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC), although it broke its streak of three straight up days, it can thank its lucky stars that corporate earnings were largely better than expected.
With regard to the debt-ceiling discussions the situation appears neither better nor worse. The potential for a bipartisan bill emerging from the Senate has given way to renewed backlash from the House of Representatives, which is working on legislation of its own. In other words, Congress appears no closer to resolving the United States' debt issues than it did two weeks ago, and it's even less close to resolving the ongoing government shutdown that has hundreds of thousands of workers furloughed and receiving IOUs instead of paychecks.
On the earnings front, global health care giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and its $254 billion market cap did its best to save the broad-based S&P 500 from a nasty tumble. J&J's third-quarter results topped Wall Street's estimates with global pharmaceutical sales up nearly 11% and the company raising its full-year earnings-per-share guidance slightly to a range of $5.44-$5.49. With strong growth in its oncology and immunology segments, as well as its over-the-counter product line, more than offsetting weak currency translation and lower-than-anticipated medical device sales, J&J did its part in calming investors' nerves.
By day's end, though, the S&P 500 simply couldn't avoid the prevailing fears of a debt default and shed 12.08 points (-0.71%) to close at 1,698.06.
Leading all S&P 500 companies higher for a change was steelmaking giant U.S. Steel (NYSE:X) which gained 5.3% on the day despite no company-specific news. If you're looking for a reason why optimists are suddenly popping out of the woodwork look no further than recent economic data from China. The Chinese central bank late last week noted the forecast that GDP growth would beat its previous 7.5% projection for this year, and last night we saw that power consumption rose by more than 10% last month. All signs point to robust growth overseas which should mean an increase in steel demand. Furthermore, the potential for tariffs on Chinese steel in certain overseas markets should give U.S. Steel a fighting chance to compete based on price. While I still am very much concerned with U.S. Steel's highly levered balance sheet, the bottom could well be in sight for this company.
Brokerage and investment advisory company Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCHW) edged 4.6% higher after the company reported its biggest quarterly profit since 2008. The company brought in $1.37 billion in net revenue for the third quarter with earnings per share of $0.22, which slid past the Street's estimates by $0.02. Practically every aspect of Schwab's business saw incredible growth; its investment advisory services segment saw 63% more brokerage accounts requesting its advice and nearly a doubling in the amount of new deposits brought in compared to the year-ago quarter. Furthermore, Schwab also predicted accelerating EPS growth with slower-rising expenses in 2014. Schwab isn't exactly the cheapest apple in the sector, but after this report it needs to be on your watch list.
Finally, logistics giant FedEx (NYSE:FDX) roared higher by 4.1% after announcing a whopping 32 million share repurchase program. With just 317 million shares outstanding, FedEx's management has essentially authorized the repurchase of 10% of outstanding shares. Based on today's closing value, we're talking about more than a $3.8 billion authorized share repurchase program that augments its remaining 7.4 million authorized share repurchase program. On the one hand, this is a clear positive for shareholders as it'll lower FedEx's outstanding share count and boost EPS. On the other hand, it could be a covert attempt to cover up FedEx's European struggles and a lack of high-margin shipping growth. It's certainly tough to even consider betting against a giant like FedEx, but I'm struggling to find much value left in its shares at the moment.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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