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The Fed Stresses Out the Market, While Banks Didn't Sweat the Stress Test

By Jack Kramer and Nick Martell – Mar 22, 2014 at 7:00PM

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Good evening, good lookin'. Here are the four things you need to know on March 22.

Bracket already busted? Join the club. And check out what sent stocks up and down big on a volatile week.

1. Janet Yellen announced a stimulus cut
After the Federal Reserve's eight-times-per-year, two-day policy meeting, new Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen ran her first policy press conference. Wall Street wasn't too pumped to hear that she's cutting the central bank's quantitative easing stimulus policy from $65 billion in monthly bond purchases (that keep interest rates low to encourage borrowing) to $55 billion. Investors are thirsty for econ stimulus, and stocks declined on the news that Mom is taking away their juice.

2. 29 of 30 banks passed the Fed's stress test
Like the SAT for the financial sector, the Federal Reserve has been busy running its annual stress test for 2014 to determine whether banks can handle a sudden major economic downturn. An improving economy and aggressive cost-cutting meant that 29 of 30 banks passed the test, which was started in 2008 after the financial crisis began. While State Street was on top, major banks Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America finished strong as well. Investors now hope this will mean those banks start returning some cash to their shareholders.

3. A stock market winner ...
The big surprise of the week wasn't just a stock -- it was a lifestyle change. According to a Bloomberg report, the world's most comfortable coffee chain, Starbucks (SBUX -0.49%), is mixing things up in its stores nationwide with significant menu changes intended to boost its evening sales once its caffeine-dependent customers are out the door.

So what's on tap? Good question. First up, wine and beer. But to add some carbs to those fine beverage items, Starbucks is also going to be selling bacon-wrapped dates, parmesan-encrusted chicken skewers, and even truffle macaroni and cheese.

Interestingly, Starbucks has been selling alcohol in its stores since 2010 in its hometown of Seattle. In 2012, the company expanded its test to 25 other cities. Wall Street sent the Starbucks stock up 1.4% after the news broke Thursday that the adult menu will now be rolled out across the country.

4. ... And a stock market loser
The holidays are a good time to be receiving presents, but not a fun time to be delivering them. That's the sad reality that the global shipping giant FedEx (FDX -0.20%) faced last quarter based on its earnings report that spanned business activity from December through February.

So what was in the report package? Some good numbers and some bad performances. First, sales were up 3% compared with last year, reaching $11.3 billion. Unfortunately, the $1.23 in profit per share was below was analysts had been projecting.

Just as it might have frozen your hair and ruined U.S. econ data in January, cold weather continued to have a tough influence on American companies the past couple of months. The polar vortexes created $125 million in additional costs for FedEx as it scrambled to get packages to doors at the health risk of its employees.

So how did FedEx perform on the ground? Not so hot. For Christmas Eve deliveries, the one-time rate was down to 90% after being close to 100% last year. While announcing the earnings report, CEO Fred Smith made clear he hasn't been a fan of Mother Nature since December.
MarketSnacks this week:
  • Monday: Two Federal Reserve presidents speak
  • Tuesday: New-home sales
  • Wednesday: Durable-goods orders
  • Thursday: U.S. GDP reading
  • Friday: Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment poll

MarketSnacks Fact of the Day: Manufacturing wages in China increased 18% per year from 2007 to 2012, while US manufacturing wages rose 2.3% per year.

As originally published on

Jack Kramer and Nick Martell have no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America, FedEx, and Starbucks and owns shares of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Starbucks. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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