Friday generated some long-awaited excitement from stock-market investors, and major market benchmarks were able to regain ground from their big declines on Monday and Thursday, substantially reducing their net losses for the week. The Dow and S&P 500 both picked up roughly 2% on the day, and crude oil prices pushed higher by more than 10%, giving energy investors at least a partial bounce from their recent drops. Yet some stocks still suffered on Friday, and among the worst performers were Alcatel-Lucent (UNKNOWN:ALU.DL), Flowers Foods (NYSE:FLO), and Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK).
Alcatel-Lucent dropped 6%. On Thursday, both it and merger-partner Nokia reported their quarterly earnings, and the news that they gave investors was mixed. On one hand, Alcatel-Lucent reported solid growth in revenue and net income, and it said that it had successfully completed its Shift Plan to reinvigorate the company's performance.
However, even though Nokia initially rose, as well, after announcing a special dividend, it said that it expected some potential challenges in the telecom market that could create difficulties in 2016. Because the Nokia acquisition involves an exchange of Alcatel-Lucent shares for Nokia stock, any concerns that push Nokia's shares lower have an impact on Alcatel-Lucent's stock price, as well.
Flowers Foods sank 7% after getting an analyst downgrade. The bakery company issued its quarterly financial report earlier in the week, and the results included declines in both revenue and adjusted earnings. Weakness in the store-brand side of the business was particularly problematic, and offset relative strength in branded retail and in warehouse-related areas.
Flowers stock fell Thursday after the announcement, but as often happens, shares took another hit as analyst firms piled on with price-target reductions, and changes to their recommendations. With the bakery industry becoming somewhat more competitive, Flowers will have to work harder to regain its momentum, especially in a tough overall market environment.
Finally, Chesapeake Energy dropped another 11%, adding to its recent woes. Although crude oil prices climbed dramatically, natural gas prices remained weak, and front-month natural gas futures contract prices settled at less than $2 on Friday. Meanwhile, shareholders are squarely focused on the challenges that Chesapeake has with its nearly $10 billion debt load, especially given the fact that major bond-rating agency Standard & Poor's has said that its current level of leverage is unsustainable without sizable improvements in energy prices going forward.
Chesapeake has enough available cash and other liquidity to deal with immediate obligations, but the clock is clearly running for the energy giant to get its financial affairs in order. If the markets don't cooperate, then Chesapeake could find itself having to make arrangements with bondholders that could effectively leave shareholders holding the bag in the not-too-distant future.