Considering that a host of marquee names, including four members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, delivered earnings reports before the bell this morning, Wednesday was by most accounts, a fairly lackluster day for equities. The Dow managed a meager gain of almost eight points to close just below 11,125 while the Nasdaq gained just 4.3 points the day after Apple (AAPL) reported another set of astounding financials. The S&P 500 did not participate in the gains as that index lost 1.24 points to settle at 1205. 93.
To put things bluntly, Greece continues to be a problem. There is simply no getting around that. The country began talks today on its $61 billion bailout package and the International Monetary Fund called this quagmire a ''wake-up call'' for sovereign debt risks. I mentioned two weeks ago that spreads on Greek 10-year bonds had blown out to record levels over German bunds. After retreating a little bit since I covered the topic, yields on Greek bonds rose 8% today. According to Bloomberg, that is the highest level in 10 years and double the rate on German bunds.
Greek Bond Spreads
The Greece situation has of course sparked concerns over a wider contagion and today the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, and the IMF voiced their concerns regarding that scenario. Next up on the list of troubled Eurozone economies that may be a thorn in the side of equity bulls appears to be Portugal, the ''P'' in the now ubiquitous PIIGS acronym. Yields on Portuguese bonds rose to their highest levels in 13 months today and the spreads between these bonds and German bunds is now 166 basis points. Back to Greece for a minute as I continue to wonder how this country can have such a profound impact on U.S. stocks. A debt load of $61 billion is less than a third of what California has to contend with. Put another way, if you wanted to buy New York's Central Park, $61 billion would probably cover about 12% of the tab.
So what we are left with is a market that really is not reacting to good earnings reports. Roughly 83% of the S&P 500 members that have reported earnings thus far have beaten expectations, one of the strongest levels since 1993, according to Bloomberg data. Still, the S&P 500 is negative for the past week and the Dow is barely positive.
Speaking of the Dow, with four members delivering earnings today, including the fourth through sixth most valuable members of the index in terms of price, this really should have been a much stronger day for industrials. AT&T (T) did not do much to help the cause. Despite the fact that Ma Bell has exclusive rights to the iPhone (how much longer that will last is anyone's guess), AT&T reported its lowest level of subscriber growth in six years. The company gained 512,000 new customers in the first quarter, down 43% from a year ago.
It was not readily apparent how many of the new customers opted for the iPhone, but at least one analyst said it was hard to be excited about AT&T's results if the iPhone was taken out of the equation. Excluding one-time items, AT&T earned 59 cents a share on sales of $30.6 billion. Analysts had expected the company to earn 54 cents a share on revenue of $30.7 billion.
Some of the company's first-quarter profits were due to cost reductions as AT&T lowered its headcount by more than 6400 workers. Again, that is not the formula investors want to see and the stock was down more than 1% today.
For as much of a dog of the Dow AT&T has been, Boeing (BA) has been the polar opposite. In the past three months, the aerospace giant has gained almost 25%, more than twice the Dow's run. Boeing touched a new 52-week high of $74.65 today before closing at $74.16, still good for a gain of almost 4% and good for the best performance in the Dow today.
Boeing said its first-quarter earnings fell to $519 million, or 70 cents a share, from $610 million, or 86 cents a share, a year earlier. Today's number includes a 20-cent charge related to the new healthcare reform bill. Boeing had previously announced that charge, so it was priced into the stock and the company's results beat the consensus estimate of 67 cents a share. Sales fell to $15.2 billion from $16.5 billion.
The company also said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has expanded its inspection of the 787 Dreamliner, an important step for the much-maligned plane's debut. Boeing said it is still on schedule to deliver the first 787 later this year. The company said it expects top line growth next year and operating cash flow of $5 billion. Boeing did deliver fewer planes in the first quarter than it did a year earlier but booked orders rose and the order backlog now stands at 3350 planes worth $250 billion.
McDonald's (MCD) was another Dow issue making a new 52-week high today on the back of a strong quarterly update. The world's biggest fast-food chain said same-store sales in March rose 4.2%, the metric's biggest gain in a year. McDonald's earned $1.09 billion, or $1 share in the first quarter, compared with $975 million, or 87 cents a share, a year earlier. Sales jumped 10% to $5.61 billion. Analysts had been expecting a profit of 96 cents a share on revenue of $5.52 billion.
As was the case when rival Yum! Brands (YUM) reported results last week, McDonald's profits were buoyed by international markets. Sales at U.S. restaurants were up just 1.5% in the first quarter. On the other hand, sales soared 5% in Europe and gained 5.7% in Asia/Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. While McDonald's has been a solid performer, investors may be viewing Yum! as the better play on emerging markets as Yum's shares are up 25% in the past three months compared to a 10% run for McDonald's.
Financials saw some dour trade today as the Goldman Sachs (GS)/SEC battle is still on the minds of investors. Throw in a congressional panel issuing a subpoena to ratings agency Moody's (MCO) for failure to comply with a request for information and a mediocre profit report from Wells Fargo (WFC) and it was not the best of days for the sector at large.
Wells Fargo's results can truly be labeled a disappointment, especially when measured against rivals like JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC) and US Bancorp (USB). The California-based bank earned $2.55 billion, or 45 cents a share in the first quarter, down from $3.05 billion, or 56 cents a share a year earlier. The consensus estimate called for a profit of 42 cents a share.
Wells said that costs related to its acquisition of Wachovia were one reason for the glum numbers. A bad excuse considering that purchase was paid for in large part by a TARP loan. Even worse, Wells said its provision for credit losses rose 13% to $4.53 billion in the first quarter. This was a significant faux pas on the bank's part given that none of its comparable rivals have set aside more cash for credit losses, so it may be a positive sign that Wells shares were down only 2% on the day.
Wells Fargo Chart
Morgan Stanley (MS) was one bright spot among financials, gaining more than 4%. Bolstered by strong fixed income trading, Morgan Stanley showed that Goldman Sachs is not the only game in town when it comes to profitable trading. Morgan Stanley's fixed income sales and trading revenue soared to $2.7 billion in the first quarter from $1.2 billion a year earlier.
The company earned $1.4 billion, or 99 cents a share, compared with a loss of $578 million, or 57 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, Morgan Stanley earned 82 cents, handily beating the average analyst estimate that called for a profit of 57 cents a share. The firm is also taking steps to lower its compensation ratio, which was 41 % of revenue in the first quarter, compared with 65% in 2009.
In addition, investors may have bid up Morgan Stanley on speculation the company is poised to steal some business from its arch rival Goldman as the latter deals with the SEC fraud case. Of course, Morgan Stanley did not comment on that, but the other side of the coin is the bank is not in the crosshairs of federal regulators. At least not yet and Goldman is.
Morgan Stanley Chart
It was a busy after-hours session for Nasdaq constituents with eBay (EBAY), Netflix (NFLX) and Qualcomm (QCOM) reporting earnings, among others. Starting with the bad news, eBay gave a tepid outlook for its full-year results, saying it expects to earn $1.63 to $1.68 a share on sales of $8.8 billion to $9.1 billion. Analysts had been forecasting a profit of $1.67 a share on revenue of $9.1 billion.
For the second quarter, the company expects to earn 37 cents to 39 cents a share on revenue of $2.15 billion to $2.2 billion. Analysts were expecting a profit of 40 cents a share on $2.2 billion in sales. Obviously, this is not the environment in which to be issuing lower guidance and as such, eBay shares are down about 8% in after-hours trading.
Fortunately, there is some good news and it comes in the form of Netflix, which has been on a parabolic rise over the past few months. On January 29th, this was a $49 stock. The shares closed just below $87 on Wednesday and are up to $88.16 in the after-market session on the back of a strong first-quarter profit report.
Netflix said added 1.7 million new subscribers in the quarter. The company has added 5 million new customers in the past 18 months. Netflix said it expects to add another 1 million subscribers by July and even that estimate could prove to be too low. Speaking of estimates, the company guided higher for 2010, saying it could earn as much as $144 million, or $2.61 a share. That is up from previous guidance of $137 million, or $2.50 a share.
More customers are opting for Netflix's Internet service over the traditional postal delivery and that is proving to be a boon for the company. The company said 55% of its customers used the Internet service in the first quarter. That is the first time more than half of its customers used that option. Hey, this way of delivering movies saves Netflix a lot of money on postage.
There is something to this outlook theme and if the other examples did not convince you of that fact, perhaps one final example will. Qualcomm (QCOM) said it expects to earn 51 cents to 55 cents a share in its fiscal third quarter, but analysts were expecting 55 cents a share. That news had Qualcomm shares down $3.44, or 8%, to $39.19 in extended trading. If there is any silver lining it is that the company raised the low end of its full year guidance to $1.71 a share from $1.56 a share, but the top line forecast was unchanged at $10.4 billion to $11 billion.
In the past two days, the Dow has seen seven of its constituents report earnings and the index has not made any noteworthy gains due to those reports. Verizon (VZ) reports tomorrow before the bell and American Express (AXP) and Microsoft (MSFT) after the close, but at this point, it is hard to envision these reports really moving the needle for the Dow. Even if resistance at 11,150 is cleared, round-number resistance at 11,200 looms.
The S&P 500 still hovers above 1200, but with the split decisions we saw in after-hours earnings today and the potential for the same scenario to repeat before the market opens tomorrow, the index could just as easily move to resistance at 1214 as it could drop below 1200. First support is at 1185 should 1200 be violated.
S&P 500 Chart
If nothing else, tomorrow should be an interesting day for the Nasdaq as investors absorb the aforementioned earnings reports along with that of Starbucks (SBUX), whose report was pretty bullish. Amazon (AMZN) joins Microsoft among the marquee Nasdaq names to report after the bell tomorrow. For now, 2500 is holding sort of and the index needs to run another 14 or 15 points to see its next resistance point.
If this week has proved anything, it is that pinning one's hopes on robust earnings reports to lift stocks higher is a futile endeavor, sans Apple of course. The three G's, Goldman, Greece and guidance are real problems for the broader market to contend with, so even if the major U.S. indexes finish the week close to where they currently reside, that might be considered a moral victory.