Wednesday's stock market action turned out to be anticlimactic, as initial strength in the major-market benchmarks gave way to a pullback later in the day. By the close, the Dow and S&P 500 posted very modest gains, but both indexes remained short of their all-time record marks. Nevertheless, several individual stocks saw much more extensive gains, and Middleby (MIDD 1.06%), Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF 0.43%), and SunEdison (SUNEQ) were among the best performers of the day.
Middleby jumped 13% as the maker of commercial food services and processing equipment crushed investors' expectations on earnings and revenue in its fourth-quarter results. The company said that sales rose 29%, producing 32% more in net income for the quarter. Although much of the gains came from acquisitions during the year, Middleby's sales climbed almost 9% even excluding the impact of those acquisitions. The commercial food-service division outperformed the food-processing equipment division, but Middleby pointed to its most recent acquisition of steam-cooking equipment maker Market Forge as bolstering its long-term prospects in the industry.
Abercrombie & Fitch gained 11% even as the teen-oriented retailer struggled with a challenging holiday season for the industry in general. Sales for A&F fell by 12%, causing earnings to fall by more than half. Yet with investors having expected even worse results, some pointed to A&F's cost-cutting measures as actually having a positive impact on the stock. CEO Mike Jeffries cited a "difficult and uncertain environment" as weighing on the retailer, but with expectations so low for the industry, Abercrombie is in a great position to deliver value for shareholders if it can avoid making major mistakes.
SunEdison climbed 9% on a mixed day for solar stocks. Even as First Solar posted troubling earnings results that called the utility-solar giant's future business model into question, SunEdison announced that it would build four utility-scale solar projects in the U.K., marking its first business efforts there. With the island nation wanting to bolster the role that solar will play in its overall energy portfolio, establishing an early presence could prove to be a smart move for SunEdison as it tries to distinguish itself in the rapidly expanding solar space.