The first trading day of the week started off in fine fashion after Italy ushered in a massive austerity program and Germany and France, the Eurozone's two largest economies, pushed for more debt-fighting solutions. However, stocks pared their gains after the Financial Times broke a story that Standard & Poor's will put German and France on creditwatch negative and that was enough to help equities pare the nice gains seen earlier in the day.
Also potentially vulnerable to an S&P downgrade are Austria, Finland and Luxembourg. Oddly enough, all five countries currently have AAA credit ratings. Perhaps the U.S. will not be so lonely in the ''lost our AAA rating'' club after all.
Initially, S&P did not comment on the speculation. Then after U.S. markets closed, the ratings agency warned that ratings downgrades may await all 17 members of the Euro Zone. Creditwatch means S&P is reviewing its ratings for possible downgrades in no more than 90 days. Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings previously said they are considering downgrades for some of the Euro Zone's AAA countries. European Union leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, so yeah, we will be looking at another weekend fraught with headline risk.
Here in the U.S., the economic data points released today were not all that impressive. The Commerce Department said factory orders fell 0.4% in October and the September reading was revised down to a 0.1% drop from an initial reading that showed a 0.3% gain. Commercial aircraft orders fell 17% in October. The Institute for Supply Management said its non-manufacturing index fell to 52% in November from a reading of 52.9% in October. Economists were expecting a November reading of 54%.
In stock-specific news here in the U.S., there was a little bit of Merger Monday at work. Well, it was actually Merger Saturday playing out today as shares of business software provider SuccessFactors (SFSF) surged over 51.4% on nearly 50 times the average daily turnover after German software giant SAP AG (SAP) announced it will acquire the California-based company for $3.4 billion, or $40 a share. That works out to a 52% premium to where the stock closed on Friday.
Not surprisingly, SAP's deal for SuccessFactors prompted speculation about what company in this space of the software universe might be next to be taken out. Taleo (TLEO) and Conqur Technologies (CNQR) were a couple names that popped up. Ariba (ARBA) was also mentioned in a Jefferies analyst note. Citigroup said today Taleo could find its way into Oracle's (ORCL) always acquisitive arms.
Success Factors Chart
Shares of online auction site and PayPal owner eBay (EBAY) jumped 3.7%, but on below average volume, after Raymond James raised its rating on the stock to ''strong buy'' from ''market perform'' with a $39 price target. That is well above the $30.70 the stock closed at today.
ChannelAdvisor reported on Friday that eBay's November same-store sales increased 18 percent from the same period last year, according to Reuters. Raymond James also sees eBay improving its results through some recent measures it has taken, including 1) shift to fixed price sales; 2) surfacing of top rated sellers (TRS); 3) improved site search; 4) adoption of free shipping; and 5) vertical shopping experiences in key categories, Barron's noted.
Speaking of analyst chatter, somehow, someway BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIMM) closed higher today despite more negative sentiment from the sell-side community. UBS lowered its price target on RIM to $18 from $26 while paring its fiscal 2013 revenue estimate to $17.4 billion from $20.4 billion and its EPS estimate to $3.87 from $4.73.
Sterne Agee lowered its fiscal 2013 revenue estimate to $20.8 billion from $20.9 billion while R.W. Baird trimmed its fiscal 2013 outlook for RIM to $17.92 billion and $3 per share from $19.98 billion and $3.95 per share. RIM was up today, but it is quite clear this stock is in a death spiral.
I do not think you can buy a BlackBerry at Dollar General (DG), but stock was up 1.6% today after the company said its fiscal third-quarter profit climbed 34% to $171.2 million, or 50 cents per share, from $128.1 million, or 37 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 12% to $3.6 billion. Analysts expected a profit of 47 cents on sales of $3.57 billion. Same-store sales rose increased 6.3%.
The Tennessee-based discount retailer forecast an adjusted 2011 profit of $2.29-$2.32 a share up from previous guidance of $2.20-$2.30 a share. The company forecast revenue growth of 13% and same-store sales growth of 5.6%-5.8% up from prior guidance of 3%-5%.
Dollar General Chart
Adding to the good cheer on the outlook front was Yum Brands (YUM), parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Kentucky-based Yum raised its 2011 profit forecast and said it expects earnings per share to grow at least 10% in 2012. The company said it expects to earn $2.85 a share on an adjusted basis in 2011, implying growth of 13%. That compares with an original estimate of 12% profit growth. The company said it expects to open 600 new restaurants in China next year.
Overall, Yum Restaurants International will open 800 new stores next year, but it is really all about China for Yum, where the company actually far outpaces rivals like McDonald's (MCD). It might also be fair to say that Yum is less and less about Mexico. At least Mexican food as there is a rumor that the company is mulling a spin-off of Taco Bell. Keep the Bell or let it go, either way, Yum hit a new 52-week high today.
Looking at the charts, the 1265 area proved to be significant resistance for the S&P 500 today and that mountain was too tall to climb as the morning's larger gains dwindled later in the day. If the S&P 500 can get through that barrier, there is some open real estate to next resistance at 1295. And then more resistance at 1350. Look to 1240 as support, then 1225.
S&P 500 Chart
The Dow probably should have finished with a triple-digit gain, but even after leaving something out there, the index is just one more good day away from breaking resistance at 12,200. Twenty-four Dow stocks were higher today and despite disappointing closes, MCD and KFT both touched new 52-week highs today. MCD can be a Dow leader at over $95 a share. First support is 12,000.
On a percentage basis, the Nasdaq was the top performer among the Big Three Indexes today and that helped the index move solidly past resistance at 2625. Now the Nasdaq is just a small gain away from reclaiming its 200-day moving average at 2673. After that, 2700 is next resistance. Support is 2600.
I thought it would be interesting to see where the leadership is coming from these days, so I screened for large-cap stocks trading 3% or less below their 52-week highs. Around 60 NYSE-listed stocks turn up and almost 20% of that group are staples stocks. GIS, KFT, MCD, PG, etc. Another 16 are either master limited partnerships or utilities. Not sexy, but not sexy appears to be working these days.