It was not the most eventful of days as stocks traded lower for most of Wednesday, save a for late day uptick that pared losses on the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 and helped the Dow Jones Industrial Average scratch out its eight consecutive up day. Despite closing lower, the Russell 2000 did find its way to a new 52-week high today.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was on Capitol Hill today telling members of the House that the U.S. economy is improving, but that U.S. firms still are not ratcheting up hiring of new staff. That would seem to be an obvious statement in the wake of last Friday's disappointing jobs report and it would also seem obvious to say that the economy needs more folks employed, and at good wages I might add, to truly blossom. For those that believe equity markets are forward looking indicators, then it can be argued that higher payrolls and more robust GDP growth are not too far off.
While today obviously is not Monday, there was a ''Merger Monday'' feel to Wednesday's trading, at least among the companies that operate the world's major securities exchanges. The headlines that got the ball rolling came from outside the U.S. as the London Stock Exchange Group offered to acquire TMX Group, the operator of the Toronto Stock Exchange, for $3.2 billion. LSE's offer values TMX at about 6% above where the shares closed on Tuesday, not a rich premium, but any ensuing drama in this deal promises to flow from other sources.
I echo the sentiments of a Bloomberg News piece that said the deal could face opposition from Canada's government. Remember, it was just a few months ago that Canadian authorities put the kibosh on BHP Billiton's (BHP) $38.6 billion hostile bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (POT). No, Potash did not want to sell itself to BHP and we can only speculate that had BHP raised its offer, a deal would have been reached. The folks in Ottawa said the deal was not beneficial to Canada. Now our neighbors to the north are faced with another opportunity to show the world their market is not closed to foreign investors seeking acquisitions.
The LSE/TMX news trickled over to the U.S. where shares NYSE Euronext (NYX) were halted for a little while for news pending. The news, originally reported by a German investment newsletter, is that Deutsche Borse AG is in advanced discussions to acquire NYSE Euronext in all-stock deal that would create the world's largest exchange operator.
The combined organization would be home to publicly traded companies worth about $15 trillion, or 28 percent of global stock-market value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Deutsche Boerse's offer is believed to value the owner of the New York Stock Exchange at 10% above Tuesday's closing price of just over $33.
This latest wave of consolidation in the exchange business should not come as a surprise. Traditional exchanges, both in the U.S. and abroad, have been losing market share for years to electronic exchanges and consolidation is viewed as the best way of boosting their business prospects and their bottom lines.
The combined organization would be home to publicly traded companies worth about $15 trillion, or 28 percent of global stock-market value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. NYSE Euronext investors apparently liked the news.
NYSE Euronext Chart
In earnings news, shares of Coca-Cola (KO) gained less than half a percent after the world's largest soft drink maker said its fourth-quarter profit more than tripled to $5.77 billion, or $2.46 per share, from $1.54 billion, or 66 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, the Dow component earned 72 cents a share, meeting the consensus estimate. Revenue surged 40% to $10.49 billion, topping the consensus estimate of $10.16 billion.
Global beverage volume rose 6%, but North America was the real story on that front with 8% volume growth. Apparently, consumers are not taking a break from soda, but they are embracing the more healthy variety (if there is such a thing). Atlanta-based Coca-Cola said Coke Zero posted double-digit volume growth for the 19th straight quarter.
The company reported its biggest volume gain in Eurasia and Africa, which rose 14%. Latin America posted a 5% increase, while Europe climbed 2% and the Pacific 1%, according to the Associated Press. At the end of the third quarter, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) owned 200 million shares of Coca-Cola.
Shares of OpenTable (OPEN) rose slightly after the online restaurant reservations firm said its fourth-quarter profit jumped 65% to $5.1 million, or 21 cents per share, from $3.1 million, or 13 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, the company said it earned 33 cents a share, topping the 22 cents analysts were expecting. Revenue rose to $30.8 million. Analysts were forecasting $30.3 million.
The stock touched an all-time high of $86.20 today before settling at $85.85. That is a fact worth noting if you were a believer in OpenTable from its infancy. Personally, I am neutral and hold no positions, short or long in this name, but I can remember when the company went public in May 2009 that there were a fair amount of skeptics. I even remember getting some crazy emails saying the stock was worth shorting or buying puts on.
Fast-forward almost two years and California-based OpenTable has risen over 400% from its IPO price of $20. That performance sharply bests Nasdaq darlings Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) and is on par with Apple (AAPL).
Speaking of Nasdaq darlings, or in this case, a former one, Cisco Systems (CSCO), the world's largest provider of networking gear, reported fiscal second-quarter results after the close today, but the problem was not those numbers, it was the company's outlook.
For that quarter, Cisco said it earned 37 cents a share, excluding one-time items while analysts were expecting 35 cents. Revenue rose to $10.4 billion, beating the consensus estimate of $10.2 billion. Cisco posted gross margins of 62.4% while the Street was expecting 63%. That is disappointment Number One. Number Two comes from Cisco's fiscal third-quarter guidance of 6% profit growth while the Street was expecting 8%.
CEO John Chambers said the company is in a ''period of transition,'' but investors' patience for this period may be wearing thin. Cisco has $40 billion in cash and will start paying a dividend this year and that might keep some value hunters interested in the name, but Cisco's lack of focus appears to be hurting the company in the near-term. If it is value you are after, it looks like Cisco will be offering better prices at the open tomorrow as the shares are down 7% in the after-hours session as of this writing.
Looking at the charts, the S&P 500 was able to hold above old resistance at 1320 today and even at its lowest point of the day, the index did not drift too far away from that important level. The 1335-1340 area could prove to be resistance as those are heights the S&P 500 has not seen since 2008. Support is moving higher, but for now is 1290-1300.
S&P 500 Chart
Eight straight gains for the Dow could mean a pullback is in the offing, but it is doubtful that it will be too deep. The chart here is simply a thing of beauty and resistance probably will not be an issue until 12,450-12,500. If 12,150 does not hold as support in the event of a pullback, then next support would be 12,000, but I think that may be a stretch.
I doubt that Cisco alone will be enough to shave nine points off the Nasdaq and take it down to first support at 2780, but it is worth noting that Nasdaq futures were trading lower after Cisco's earnings announcement. If 2780 is violated, then 2765 could be the next stop. If the bulls can regain control here, 2810 is next resistance.
Is the Russell 2000 back to its role as a leader? I am starting to think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. As I noted earlier, the Index made a new 52-week high today and despite the small loss, is above the 807 resistance area. Almost 16 points remain between the Russell's current resting point and next resistance.
Russell 2000 Chart
In closing, I would not be alarmed by Wednesday's lackluster action. Mergers and acquisitions activity is obviously alive and well and the January/February time frame is once again proving rewarding for income investors with a healthy amount of dividend increases. 3M (MMM) and Polo Ralph Lauren are among the more noteworthy dividend raisers in the last two days. These are anecdotes that bode well for more upside.
Speaking of upside anecdotes, I certainly would have delivered this on Monday, my usual day for the wrap, as it would have been more appropriate the day after the Super Bowl. Alas, here it is for Wednesday consumption, but it is no less compelling: When the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl, the average gain for the S&P 500 from the trading day following the game through the end of the year is 16%, according to Bespoke Investment Group. Too bad the Pittsburgh Steelers did not win. The S&P 500 gains an average of almost 19% when that team hoists the Lombardi Trophy.