Not even generally poor economic data can sink the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC), which reversed its fractional loss from yesterday to turn in yet another record-high close.
There was no bigger economic news today than the ADP National Employment Report, released before the opening bell, which showed that private businesses created just 179,000 jobs in May. That was below Wall Street's expectation that 210,000 private sector jobs would be created. The ADP numbers often give economists a better idea of what to expect for the subsequent Labor Department nonfarm payroll report, which is scheduled to be released on Friday. Based on today's data, we shouldn't expect the unemployment rate to dip any further from its present level of 6.3%.
First-quarter worker productivity and unit labor cost figures from the Labor Deaprtment were also very concerning, especially for businesses. Worker productivity was revised from a prior dip of 1.7% to a decline of 3.2%, which was worse than expected. Inclement weather was the primary cause of this decline in activity, but a 5.7% increase in labor costs is far and away higher than anyone's wildest guess on Wall Street. Factory orders are moving higher again, so there's probably not an endemic problem here aside from the unpredictability of the weather, but it's still evident just how negatively the polar vortex affected the U.S. economy in the first quarter.
Even the Mortgage Bankers Association got in a jab on optimists today with its weekly loan originations reading dropping 3.1% from the previous week. Consumers continue to prove that they are hypersensitive to interest rate changes when they really shouldn't be considering that lending rates are near historic lows.
One bright spot came from the Institute for Supply Management services reading for May of 56.3, up from 55.2 in April. Similar to the first-quarter worker productivity numbers, a rebound here was expected as the weather around the country improved. If anything, this figure could provide a positive jolt for retailers that have taken it on the chin over the past couple months.
By day's end the S&P 500 had crawled out from the red and risen 3.64 points (0.19%) to close at 1,927.88, a fresh all-time high.
Leading all individual stocks to the upside today was mobile cloud security provider NQ Mobile (NYSE:NQ), which skyrocketed 30.9% after announcing the findings from its special committee that was investigating allegations of fraud from short-selling firm Muddy Waters. According to the findings, which included verification of all cash balances, interviews with company employees, and investigations into its acquisitions and business partners, there is no evidence of wrongdoing. In addition, the special committee made recommendations that NQ Mobile can implement to tighten up its accounting controls. Per my Foolish colleague Steve Symington, Muddy Waters has already refuted the findings of the special committee and still believes NQ Mobile to be a fraud. I'd argue that as long as NQ follows the recommendations of the special committee and remains transparent to investors following this investigation, there is no reason it can't head even higher over the long term.
Coming in a close second behind NQ Mobile was Vanda Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VNDA), which gained 25.4% after the company announced that the European Medicines Agency (the EU's equivalent of our Food and Drug Administration) had accepted its application for marketing authorization for Hetlioz.
Hetlioz is a non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder drug that was approved in the U.S. in January and helps blind people who have no light perception stay on a normal sleep schedule. Vanda estimates the EU could be home to roughly 130,000 people who could benefit from Hetlioz. Like any drug it'll need to be reviewed and approved in the EU before it can reach pharmacy shelves, but the potential to double its annual peak sales potential obviously has investors excited. However, I also watched Vanda mismanage its first FDA-approved therapy (Fanapt), which makes me want to stick to the sidelines and wait for Hetlioz's sales to do the talking rather than speculate on how good it could be.
Lastly, life insurance and financial product and service provider Protective Life (UNKNOWN:PL.DL), which has been the subject of buyout rumors all week, surged 18.1% after Dai-ichi Life Insurance officially agreed to purchase the company for $5.7 billion. According to Dai-ichi, its purchase of Protective Life will allow it to become a global insurer, especially considering that no country underwrites more life insurance policies than the United States. The deal is still subject to the approval of Protective Life shareholders, with a vote likely coming in the next two or three months. If approved, the buyout would be completed by the late fourth quarter or early 2015. It's hard to see Protective Life shareholders not approving this deal, with Dai-ichi paying eight times trailing EBITDA and 13 times forward earnings for Protective Life. All told, it looks like a solid long-term win for both companies.