The rough start to 2014 continued for the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) today following more sanguine economic data, and an unfavorable decision from the Federal Open Market Committee, at least in the eyes of investors.
The biggest reason the market is moving precipitously lower today is the FOMC's decision to reduce its monthly economic stimulus by another $10 billion moving forward, to $65 billion. The Fed's bond-buying program, known as QE3, had allowed the Fed to purchase $85 billion in U.S. long-term Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities each month in an effort to keep lending rates low, and stabilize the housing market. This second straight month of a $10 billion drop in bond-buying activity does positively signal the FOMC's opinion that the U.S. economy is on the right track, but could also send interest rates higher with fewer bond purchases to hold them lower.
Along similar lines, the weekly figures from the Mortgage Brokers Association showed a 0.2% decline in mortgage loan originations. Consumers have proven to be incredibly sensitive to even the slightest uptick in mortgage lending rates, so today's FOMC action, coupled with a fractional decline in loan originations for last week, has investors clearly concerned.
By day's end the S&P 500 ended substantially lower by 18.30 points (-1.02%) to close at 1,774.20, its lowest close since mid-November.
Leading all companies to the upside today was intellectual property-rights owner Vringo (NASDAQ: VRNG), which advanced 20.7% after the company confirmed a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that it's entitled to a post-judgment royalty rate of 6.5% from Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), compared to a previous royalty rate of 3.5%, because of ongoing patent infringement by various Google programs, including AdWords. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the past and future awards would be worth close to $1 billion for Vringo, but an appeal of the ruling by Google is likely to take time, and is also likely to reduce the net award to Vringo. While this is a clear victory for Vringo, IP-rights companies often have very inconsistent cash flow making them hit-or-miss investments.
Pawn loan and non-recourse loan operator EZCORP (NASDAQ:EZPW) also rocketed higher on the day by 20.3% after it reported better-than-expected first-quarter results. For the quarter, EZCORP actually saw its revenue decline 1%, to $269.4 million, as net income fell to $22.6 million from $30.7 million in the year-ago period. However, EZCORP's adjusted profit of $0.49 per share handily topped Wall Street's estimate of $0.39 in EPS, and its revenue beat the consensus by $12 million. Most importantly, same-store sales for EZCORP jumped 8%, signaling that the pawn business is stronger than many investors had been forecasting. With lending rates forecast to rise moving forward, I would look for EZCORP's top line to slowly pick up the pace.
Finally, tissue-engineering specialist Organovo Holdings (NASDAQ:ONVO) moved higher by 10.2% after it announced the delivery of its first 3-D liver tissue product to a key opinion leader, which is a fancy term for leading scientific researcher. This delivery is about three months ahead of schedule, and the hope from Organovo is that it'll allow researchers to spread excitement about its 3-D liver tissue product and help it improve the product for eventual commercial launch.
Speaking of its commercial launch, Organovo also announced it now expects its 3-D liver assay test to be launched prior to December. When all is said and done, it really comes down to whether or not Organovo's "cool" science can translate into marketable products. Getting a product to market ahead of schedule is a nice start, but an already frothy valuation without any revenue leads me to believe that Organovo's upside could be limited, at least during the next couple of quarters.