Russian President Vladimir Putin deserves a sarcastic "Thank You" note from anyone currently invested in the stock market. The note would indicate to Mr. Putin that his reckless and threatening stance toward Ukraine not only threw the world's leaders into crisis prevention mode, but his brazen power play also managed to erase 386 points from the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.08%) this week alone. "You're just crazy enough to cause a pullback in the global financial markets, all by yourself" the note would conclude. "Impressive stuff, Vlad."
In reality, Russia's offensive deserves no praise, and could endanger the lives of the ethnically divided citizens of Ukraine -- not to mention Russia's already fragile relationship with Western powers. As diplomatic talks with Russia and the U.S. stalled, the Dow lost 43 points, or 0.3%, to end at 16,065.
Wal-Mart (WMT 0.77%) stock lost 0.9% Friday, ending as one of the 20 blue chip stocks to lose ground. As a $240-billion global titan of commerce, Wal-Mart's days of booming growth are over. One way to gauge Wally World's future prospects is to keep tabs on U.S. retail sales, and those aren't setting any records right now, ticking up 0.3% in February. Some investors think Wal-Mart should seek growth by acquiring a prominent grocer or dollar store, but it may just be muscling its way into the market uninvited. Outside of the Dow, Ulta Salon (ULTA -0.23%) and Sirius XM Holdings (SIRI 0.34%) also finished as big movers, though neither stock retreated in today's trading.
Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance surged 6.4% after the beauty retailer continued to post impressive top- and bottom-line growth. Same-store sales grew by 9.2% in the fourth quarter, and the company expects same-store sales to continue growing between 5% and 7% in the first quarter. Wal-Mart, as a megaretailer, is already far larger than Ulta can ever be as purely a beauty store, but Ulta will likely maintain higher gross margins than Wal-Mart into the future.
Finally, shares of Sirius XM Holdings tacked on 2.1% today after Liberty Media Corporation decided to drop its bid to purchase the remaining shares of Sirius XM. Immediately following the decision, Sirius reinstituted a share buyback program. The satellite radio company also reiterated guidance for 2014, predicting the service will add more than 1.2 million customers, log $4 billion in sales, and haul in over $1 billion in free cash flow. It's no surprise investors decided to stay tuned; Sirius has a pretty tight grasp on its market. And with Liberty Media no longer looming, Sirius has more control over its own destiny, as well..