So far in 2016, the stock market has largely followed the ups and downs of the commodities markets. In particular, oil and various industrial metals have tended to move in a correlated manner, and stocks have generally responded poorly when energy and materials prices behaved badly. That was the case on Wednesday, as oil fell back below $40 per barrel on fears of oversupply. Combined with ongoing concerns about business and consumer reactions to increased terrorist activity in Europe, major market benchmarks gave back some of their recent gains, pressing lower by roughly 0.5% to 1% on the day. Nevertheless, some stocks still managed to post significant gains, and some of the best performers were Virgin America (VA), Francesca's Holdings (FRAN), and Pepco Holdings (NYSE: POM).
Virgin America rose 13% after reports suggested that the airline could be interested in pursuing a sale of its business to a potential acquirer. The Bloomberg report noted that the airline got attention from at least one interested party, and the airline is reportedly now more actively pursuing other possible buyers to find out about the best deal it could get. As competition begins to climb in the industry, the ability for further consolidation is limited by the already massive size of the largest U.S. carriers. Nevertheless, with the potential list including both traditional giants in the industry as well as somewhat smaller successful rivals, Virgin America shareholders hope that the airline can thread the needle to get another acquisition past antitrust regulators before a final clampdown on industry consolidation can happen.
Francesca's Holdings gained 6% in the wake of its fourth-quarter earnings report. The retailer reported an 11% jump in comparable sales, with a 38% climb in direct-to-consumer sales helping to drive solid revenue growth for the holiday quarter. Apparel sales helped produce the bulk of Francesca's growth. The retailer also said that it would implement a stock repurchase program with a $100 million authorization, adding to the $14.6 million in buybacks that it executed during the fourth quarter. Francesca's did offer slightly weaker guidance for slowing comparable sales growth in the first quarter and for the entire fiscal year, but with plans to open 20 to 25 new stores just in the first quarter alone, Francesca's growth story appears to be intact.
Finally, Pepco Holdings soared 27%. The utility company finally got approval from Washington, D.C. regulators to move forward with its merger with Exelon, which represented the last hurdle in the process for the two utility giants. The deal will create a utility powerhouse, uniting the nuclear focus on Exelon with the mid-Atlantic regional electricity-supplier exposure that Pepco has. What surprised investors so much was that the regulatory agency had already opposed the deal previously, and opponents of the merger were unhappy with what they perceived as an unwarranted change in the regulators' position. Nevertheless, with Exelon having made concessions to get a deal done, Pepco shareholders now appear poised to reap the rewards of the merger.