Sometimes, what looks like a normal trading day on Wall Street actually hides a lot of turmoil among investors, as market participants strain to figure out how to balance positive and negative news from various corners of the business world. On Tuesday, stock markets were generally higher, with the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) climbing 95 points as of 12:30 p.m. EST. Yet beneath that calm facade, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) led the bullish charge with gains of more than 3%, while oil stocks ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) were the leading losers in the Dow as oil prices continue to gyrate wildly. Let's take a look at these competing forces and what investors should know about them.
Coke is it -- for today
Coca-Cola's gains came on the heels of what many would initially have seen as a troubling earnings report this morning from the soft-drink giant. Net income for the quarter plunged 55% from year-ago levels, with sales dropping 2%. For the full 2014 year, net income dropped 17%, proving just how much Coca-Cola has slowed down over the past year.
Yet investors instead focused on looking forward. Global volume returned to growth, albeit at just a 1% rate during the fourth quarter. Moreover, currency impacts played a big role in Coca-Cola's revenue decline, with currency-neutral sales rising 4%. Despite assertions from management that 2015 will continue to challenge Coca-Cola with the need for aggressive transition in pursuit of its growth initiatives, shareholders believe that the worst could be over for the beverage giant. If the company can make good on its plans to try to cut $3 billion from its annual spending while also looking for ways to boost the price points on premium drinks, then Coca-Cola could regain some of its lost glory in 2015 and beyond.
Energy puts pressure on markets
At the other end of the spectrum, energy-related stocks were among the worst performers in the Dow today, with Chevron leading the way with about a 1% decline. Crude oil prices fell on Tuesday, with West Texas Intermediate falling more than 4% to go below the $51 per barrel level.
The declines in oil have already prompted aggressive action from energy companies, with Chevron having announced a $35 billion capital-expenditure budget for 2015, down 13% from 2014's levels. So far, ExxonMobil hasn't said how much it expects to invest internally this year, but with the company wanting to keep its dividend climbing, the big question is whether Exxon would have enough cash flow to boost its payouts to shareholders while also spending on capital expenditures.
Even though crude prices have only rebounded slightly, many energy stocks have climbed quite a bit further from their recent lows in the hopes that oil has found a bottom. If crude prices start falling again, though, that confidence could come to an end and send energy stocks -- and shares of companies that benefit from energy-related spending -- back downward for an extended period.
Stock-market investors will need to stay on their toes as crosscurrents send some stocks higher and others lower. As the bull market gets longer in the tooth, investors will want to look closely at their specific stock holdings to make sure that their companies are in the best possible financial shape to weather whatever storms might come in the future.