The stock market took a pause in its strong recent performance, with the Dow rising to new record heights but the S&P 500 falling back by a fraction of a point. Investors are weighing concerns about the sustainability of the bull market in stocks against the relatively strong prospects that many stocks have to grow. Yet for Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO), Francesca's Holdings (OTC:FRAN), and (NYSE: COUP), today's losses were significant as shareholders dealt with some tough issues facing their stocks.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals dropped 13% on a topsy-turvy day for the biotech stock. The company's shares initially rose this morning as Inovio announced that it had started a phase 1 and 2a trial to evaluate the safety and clinical responses of its head- and neck-cancer treatment INO-3112. Inovio's immunotherapy products have inspired a great deal of interest among industry watchers, and some key results from its VGX-3100 candidate treatment could make or break the stock. Yet Inovio's decision to do a 1-for-4 reverse split of its shares suggests that the company isn't convinced that it will get the positive news it wants, and the stock dropped on speculation that Inovio might actually be trying to prepare investors for negative news in the near future.

Francesca's Holdings dropped 11% after the retailer reported its quarterly earnings and gave guidance for the current quarter and full fiscal year. Looking back, Francesca's saw its profit drop 21% on a 7% decline in same-store sales. As investors have seen countless times this earnings season, Francesca's blamed winter weather and a rise in overhead expenses for the shortfall, which crushed gross margins. But more troubling was the retailer's look forward, which included a full-year cut of 10% on earnings and 1% to 2.5% on revenue. With Francesca's suffering from inventory headaches, it'll take ongoing effort in a difficult retail environment for the company to regain its momentum.


Finally, fell more than 10% after a stock analyst downgraded the shares of the online coupon and discount provider, giving it a sell rating. The newly public company has seen its stock gyrate wildly, opening at $30 per share, losing almost half its value, then bouncing back upward again before today's drop. But the big question facing is how it can sustain a competitive moat, given the already sharp competition from other major players in the online coupon and discount arena. Given the downward trend that longer-established rivals have seen in their stock prices, will need to do a much better job of distinguishing itself in order to justify better share-price performance.

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