The stock market posted solid gains on Thursday, and companies related to the technology sector were among the strongest performers. Even though rising energy prices helped pull up the natural resources sector from some of its longer-term losses, some of the best results came from social-media stocks and the tech companies that provide the backbone for some of their services. At least during the regular trading session on Thursday, some of the top performers included PayPal Networks (NASDAQ:PYPL), Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Cirrus Logic (NASDAQ:CRUS), although the fortunes of at least one of those stocks turned dramatically in the after-hours market Thursday night.
PayPal Networks climbed 8% after the electronic payment-processing company reported its fourth-quarter financial results on Wednesday night. The company said that it had added 6.6 million new customer accounts during the fourth quarter, bringing the total number of people using PayPal's service to 179 million.
Even though competition in the mobile and electronic payments space has created plenty of new options for users, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman believes that his company has the inside track to growth. By creating a resonant brand that e-commerce users since the dawn of the Internet are familiar with, PayPal stands out among the crowd of would-be competitors, and has the financial resources to make advances in technology that can keep it ahead of the crowd. That should boost its prospects, and create a moat that others will find it difficult to duplicate.
Amazon.com rose 9% as investors expected the e-commerce and cloud-computing giant to carry its positive momentum into the New Year. Yet the confidence that shareholders showed turned out to be premature, as Amazon gave up all of its gains, and then some, in the after-hours session following the release of its fourth-quarter earnings.
The e-commerce marketplace posted its largest profit ever at $1 per share, but it still fell short of what Amazon investors had hoped to see. Impressive sales increases of nearly 22% also fell just shy of expectations, even though its Amazon Web Services division grew nearly 70% during the quarter. The whipsaw shows the danger of trying to anticipate earnings results before the actual release, but it also reflects Amazon's unique situation in pursuing revenue growth at the expense of immediate profits.
Finally, Cirrus Logic gained 16%. The maker of audio chips topped expectations in its fiscal third-quarter earnings report. Even though it gave guidance for the fiscal fourth quarter that didn't live up to expectations, Cirrus also earned an upgrade from an industry analyst Thursday.
Some investors believe that the coming release of the iPhone 7 could help lift Cirrus back upward, especially if the new smartphone offers noise-cancellation headphones that would highlight the audio capabilities of the product. Still, with a lot of uncertainty about the growth potential of the iPhone franchise generally, Thursday's climb seemed out of sync with sentiment surrounding the device, and other suppliers whose components will be in iPhone products, didn't follow Cirrus Logic's stock higher today.