Stocks finished with modest gains on Friday, as investors weighed favorable economic news -- steady consumer sentiment and solid fourth-quarter U.S. GDP growth -- with worrisome developments in Ukraine, where its president claims Russian forces have invaded, seizing control of two airports in the Crimean Peninsula. Fearing the aggressive move could be an omen of further conflict in the region, stocks retreated from their intraday highs. Brushing off the concerns, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) added 49 points, or 0.3%, to end at 16,321.
After all, the escalating Ukrainian conflict has little to do with companies like Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS), which has no known plans for a Ukrainian Disneyland. Disney investors are too giddy to focus on anything other than this Sunday's Oscar ceremonies anyway; the unexpected blowout success of the animated holiday family film Frozen positioned the picture as the front-runner for best animated feature film. Having grossed nearly $1 billion in worldwide box office sales so far, not only does Frozen deserve the award, but its overwhelming popularity all but guarantees the birth of a Frozen franchise that Disney should be able to milk for years to come. The stock added 0.4% today.
Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) shareholders also had something to celebrate on Friday, and celebrate they did, as Wall Street bid the stock up 4.2%. The electronics retailer easily beat analysts' earnings-per-share estimates of $1.01 in the fourth quarter, earning instead $1.24 per share. With ambitious CEO Hubert Joly's "Renew Blue" cost-cutting initiatives beginning to show up in the financials, Best Buy deserves a pat on the back. But, as my colleague Daniel Kline wisely reminds us, bloodthirsty online competitors like Amazon.com aren't going away, and sooner or later, Best Buy needs to start boosting sales instead of simply cutting costs.
Shares of the $6.4 billion drugstore Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) lost 2.2% and, frankly, for no compelling reason. Rite Aid is a volatile stock, in part because, like Best Buy, it faces stiff competition from much larger competitors. But through sound operational strategy in recent years -- Rite Aid shut down underperforming stores, and just renewed a longtime partnership with its pharmaceutical supplier -- the company swung to a profit in 2013, and shows promise going forward. Rite Aid stock probably won't quadruple in value during the next 12 months like it has in the past year, but the mid-cap drugstore has proven it can hang with the big boys. The question now is whether it can become one.
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