Earnings season propelled stocks higher again today as the broad market notched its sixth-straight gain, with M&A activity in the health-care sector and a strong earnings report by Netflix providing a lift. By the end of the session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) finished 65 points higher, or 0.4%, and the S&P 500 gained by a similar percentage. The tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped 1% on the strength of Netflix's report and Facebook's analyst upgrade. Analysts are only projecting minimal earnings growth this season, at 1.1% due to the poor winter weather, but those low expectations seem to be giving reporting companies a low bar to jump over.
Only one economic report was released today as the National Association of Realtors said existing home sales in March totaled annualized rate of 4.59 million, essentially in line with estimates and February's total at 4.6 million. Home sales are still down from last year, but could pick up with warmer weather.
Four Dow components reported earnings today, including McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), which fell 0.4% after a lackluster quarter. The Golden Arches' domestic problems continued as same-store sales fell 1.7% in the U.S, though they were up globally by 0.5%. Total revenue improved 1%, or 3% when adjusting for currency fluctuations, to $6.7 billion, short of estimates at $6.73 billion, while EPS of $1.21 missed expectations of $1.24 per-share profit, though the figure would have been $1.24 after adjusting for currency changes. While the results weren't terrible, the quarter painted a portrait of a company struggling to maintain its fast-food leadership.
McDonald's is undergoing changes to modernize stores, adding more prep tables to allow for greater order customization and speedier service, while fighting off new entrants in breakfast and other key categories. Though the U.S. generates only about a third of the company's revenue, declining comps at home could foreshadow changes coming to international markets as competitors expand and rival tastes evolve.
Rival Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) reported earnings after hours today with shares jumping 3.6% to a new 52-week high. The KFC parent saw sales in China rebound after a scare about the safety of its chicken and the avian flu epidemic caused receipts to plummet last year as same-stores sales fell 20%. In its first quarter, sales in China improved 9% on a comparable basis, and 17% overall. Earnings of $0.87 per share topped estimates at $0.85, while revenue grew 7%, $2.72 billion, falling short of the consensus at $2.8 billion. Yum has no plans to slow down its growth in China as it plans to add at least 700 new restaurants in there this year. Management also projected at least 20% EPS growth this year, driven by its aggressive international expansion, as U.S. comps were down. Virtually all of its profit gains came from China in the past quarter, and the world's No. 2 economy will continue to guide Yum's fortunes going forward.