For a second consecutive day, investors pushed the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) decisively higher, with the Federal Open Market Committee's minutes from its meeting last month providing the primary impetus.
According to the FOMC minutes, all of the Fed's policymakers voted unanimously to get rid of the static benchmarks it had in place that would determine whether or not to raise interest rates. Investors took this as a good sign that the Fed is going to remain as accommodative as possible, which may also translate into a slower tapering of QE3. Remember, QE3 has been instrumental in keeping long-term Treasury yields near historic lows, so ongoing QE3 could mean more time for businesses to take on debt and expand at generally low lending rates.
On the flipside, housing data continued to disappoint. The Mortgage Brokers Association released its weekly Mortgage Index this week, which showed a 1.6% decline in loan originations from the previous week. In spite of historically low lending rates, consumers have been sitting on their hands, and choosing to refinance or purchase homes at a weaker pace than in years' past simply because rates have risen slightly from their May 2013 lows. I believe this spoiled consumer certainly has the potential to wreck this rally, at least for the housing industry.
By day's end investors didn't seem to care too much for the MBA's news and, instead, focused on the optimism surrounding the FOMC's minutes release with the S&P 500 rising by 20.22 points (1.09%), to close at 1,872.18.
Leading all companies to the upside today was Constant Contact (UNKNOWN:CTCT.DL), an online marketing company geared toward small businesses and non-profit organizations in the United States. Shares vaulted higher by 28.7% after the company announced its preliminary first-quarter results after the closing bell last night. For the quarter, Constant Contact anticipates reporting revenue of $78.7 million-$78.8 million, with GAAP net income of $650,000-$750,000 (about $0.02 per share). It also boosted its full-year revenue forecast to $330 million, representing 13% year-over-year growth. By comparison, Wall Street was looking for just $77.3 million in quarterly revenue and $323.4 million for the full year. It's certainly tough to argue against Constant Contact's impressive results, and I've even been a fan of the company in the past, but following today's run higher, I believe it to be fully valued at 23 times forward earnings.
Television broadcasting company Gray Television (NYSE:GTN) gained 14.5% on the day after receiving an upgrade to outperform from neutral by Wells Fargo, as well as a $2 price target increase to $15, implying 51% upside from yesterday's closing price. The impetus for the upgrade was a reversal in opinion by analysts at Wells Fargo that the Federal Communications Commission would block local television sharing deals for things like ad sales, programming costs, and even facilities. With this no longer looking like a concern, Wells Fargo upgraded a number of companies within the sector. Gray has certainly been proactive about expanding its reach within the broadcasting sector by expanding through acquisitions, but at 21 times forward earnings, and following a greater-than-doubling of its share price during the trailing 52-weeks, I believe that optimism may already be baked into its shares.
Finally, oil and liquid-natural gas exploration and production company Athlon Energy (UNKNOWN:ATHL.DL) surged 13.1% after announcing agreements to purchase properties and undeveloped acreage for $873 million in cash in the Midland Basin. The deals were struck with five unrelated third-party sellers according to its press release, and have net proved reserves of 31 million barrels of oil equivalent, and estimated net reserve potential of up to 250 million barrels of oil equivalent. Because much of its purchase has yet to be drilled and/or tested, the company believes it will "represent years of low-risk growth potential." With a growth rate in excess of 40% and a forward P/E of a mere 19, I would argue that things are looking up for Athlon shareholders, and that shares may still have room to run higher.