Stocks finished flat today as investors struggled to interpret conflicting economic data and a slew of earnings reports that came out today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ( ^DJI 0.68% ) finished down three points, or 0.02%, while the S&P 500 gained 0.05%, and the Nasdaq edged 0.04% higher.
There was more good news on the labor market front as initial unemployment claims fell to its lowest mark since Februrary 2006, dropping to 284,000 from 303,000, easily beating expectations of 308,000. Continuing unemployment claims also fell to 2.5 million, its lowest point since June 2007, yet another sign that strong job growth is continuing through July.
In the housing sector, however, new home sales plummeted 8% to an annual rate of 406,000 in June, down from 442,000 the previous month, and well below expectations of 475,000. Activity in the housing market continues to be down from a year ago, despite strong growth in manufacturing and jobs this year, as new home sales are off 4.9% through the first half of the year, and new home inventory also increased last month, creating a lag in the market. Today's report caused homebuilder stocks to fall, and economists see the fading housing recovery as holding back overall economic growth.
More high-profile earnings reports rolled in after hours today. Amazon.com ( AMZN 1.63% ) shares were down 10% in extended trading after the online giant posted a wider loss than expected. Amazon reported a per-share loss of $0.27, down from a $0.02 per-share loss a year ago, and worse than estimates of $0.15 per-share loss. CEO Jeff Bezos is famous for deferring profits in order to grow sales and build competitive advantages, but investors seem to be tiring of the company's breakeven results, as shares are now down 20% from a peak above $400 early this year. Sales grew 23% in the quarter to $19.3 billion, in line with estimates, as the company continued its torrid growth rate, and expanded several of its businesses, most notably the introduction of the Amazon Fire Smartphone. Management guided an even wider loss for the current quarter, further frustrating investors, though the company is known for its conservative forecasts. At one point, sales growth was enough to push shares higher, but the stock appears to have reached a ceiling until the company can put up meaningful profits.
Also falling sharply after hours was Pandora Media ( P ), losing 10% after guidance in its earnings report was out of tune. In the past quarter, the Internet radio provider saw revenue jump 38%, to $218.9 million, matching estimates, as local advertising grew 144%, and mobile revenue, which makes up 76% of sales, improved 51%. Subscription growth slowed to 35% from 94% in the first quarter as the company lifted its monthly fee by $1, to $4.99. Bottom-line results were respectable, as well; the company earned $0.04 per share after adjustments, $0.01 better than expectations. For the current quarter, the online DJ expects to earn between $0.05 and $0.08 versus the analyst consensus at $0.08. Aside from that, guidance was essentially even with expectations, making the sell-off seem a bit puzzling. Though the stock is well off its 52-week highs, it remains pricey, and investors have a tendency to punish high-flying stocks for poor guidance, which seems to be the case here.