Despite generally positive data on the economic front, and even though the VIX continues to head toward multi-year lows, even optimists decided to take a day off today.
The big report of the day was U.S factory orders for April, which rose 0.7%, slightly ahead of economist expectations, but down notably from the 1.5% expansion in March. Keep in mind, though, that the polar vortex engulfed a good chunk of the U.S. in January and February and reduced factory output, so March's surge was akin to pulling a rubber band one way and having it snap back in the other direction. All things considered, factory order growth remains strong (and hit an all-time high in April) and would certainly be conducive to this rally continuing.
Also providing a bright spot was the midday release of U.S. auto sales figures which showed moderate strength for two of the nation's three largest automakers thanks to favorable weekend weather across much of the country. On the heels of strong Jeep sales Chrysler noted that its unit volume jumped 17% while General Motors reported a 12.6% increase in unit sales from the prior-year period despite a number of ongoing recalls and an investigation into why certain of these recalls didn't occur sooner.
By days end the broad-based S&P 500 had dipped ever so slightly by 0.73 points (-0.04%) to close at 1,924.24, ending its three-day winning streak.
Leading the charge to the upside today among individual stocks is wireless technology intellectual property company InterDigital (NASDAQ:IDCC), which jumped 20.7% after announcing a patent license agreement with Samsung and issuing its updated second-quarter guidance. By far the bigger news of the two was the patent agreement with Samsung that settles a dispute between the two over the alleged use of InterDigital's patents in new mobile devices. Without the need for hefty court fees InterDigital is free to collect royalty revenue from Samsung amicably to the delight of shareholders. InterDigital also updated its quarterly revenue guidance for the second-quarter to a fresh range of $72 million-$80 million compared to current Wall Street estimates which call for roughly $48 million. Companies like InterDigital could present a lot of value for larger tech companies looking to add royalty revenue to their product portfolio, however, their erratic revenue growth can be tricky to gauge at times.
Shares of gold miner IAMGOLD (NYSE:IAG) had a wild day, spiking higher by 12.5% despite no readily apparent news. However, gold prices did move higher for the first time in seven sessions which could be adding some fuel to IAMGOLD's move. In addition, IAMGOLD updated its drilling progress at Monster Lake last week noting that it contained "three sheared, altered, and mineralized zones." This is just the company's first exploratory program in the region and it could be quite successful if mineral yields remain high throughout the drilling process. However, IAMGOLD also has one of the highest cost-structures due to its mines in Africa where high labor costs and work disruptions had become the norm for years. Unless we see a genuine rebound in gold prices there are probably better miners to consider within the sector.
Finally, the Days of Our Lives love triangle between Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) and Pilgrim's Pride (NASDAQ:PPC) over who will purchase Hillshire Brands (UNKNOWN:HSH.DL) continued today, with Pilgrim's Pride upping its bid for Hillshire Brands to $55 per share from the $45 per share it offered last week. Hillshire rose 9.5% in response.
This bid handily trumps the $50-per-share offer from Tyson at the end of last week and puts Pilgrim in position to snag Hillshire away from Tyson. Once again, this bid is contingent on Hillshire Brands dropping its bid to acquire Pinnacle Foods for $4.23 billion. While I've been dead wrong three straight times now, I still see absolutely no value in the deal at these shares. Although cost synergies from merging distribution channels will benefit the acquiring company, it will take years to realize these full benefits. In the meantime, Hillshire is now valued at 29 times forward earnings and more than 13 times trailing EBITDA -- an insane price to pay for Hillshire in my personal opinion. Pilgrim declared bankruptcy in 2008 for overpaying to acquire a peer and it could be setting itself up for a similar fate with this bid. I'd suggest keeping your nose clean of this entire bidding war.