Before the Bell - The bulls, in hibernation for much of January, but clearly on the rise thus far in February, made a strong attempt to extend their winning ways yesterday and, in fact, came within a whicker of doing so, with just the Dow Jones Industrial Average failing to finish in the green. The day, meantime, was marked by disappointing news on the jobs front but continued optimism in general about getting vaccines into the arms of Americans. As to the day ahead, the early read on the market is a slightly negative one at the open.
Looking back on yesterday's action, investors received another key read on the employment situation early in the day as the Labor Department noted that first-time jobless claims totaled to 793,000 for the seven days through February 6th. That was above expectations, but below the preceding week's upwardly revised tally of 812,000. Importantly, though, the overall number remains stubbornly high and well above the averages posted before the COVID-19 pandemic struck with such fury early last year.
In other news, several food-related companies including PepsiCo (PEP) reported quarterly results. That food and beverage giant came in with solid revenue and profit figures for the fourth quarter and issued in-line guidance for 2021. It also raised its quarterly payout. But apparently the news was not good enough to lift the stock. Another food company to report was the Kraft Heinz Company (KHC). Here, revenues and results for the fourth quarter edged above expectations and the company, in a separate action, announced plans to sell its nuts division. The stock jumped on these developments.
Returning to the employment situation, it remains troubling. On point, job creation was very low in January and weekly unemployment filings continue to be well above trend. Meanwhile after a rather quiet quite week on the business front so far, news will be sparse again today ahead of the three-day President's weekend.
Returning to yesterday's market action, the Dow Industrials, after a brief sojourn in positive territory early in the trading day, pressed lower as the morning moved along, finally reaching the session nadir in that composite of nearly 200 points by early afternoon. The blue chips then would reverse course and press toward the breakeven line over the rest of the day, finally falling just seven points short of a neutral reading. Things were better on the S&P 500 (up seven points) and materially brighter on the NASDAQ (ahead 53 points) on the day. As to individual stocks, the trading frenzy continued in cannabis entity Tilray (TILR), which lost about 50% of its value yesterday. - Harvey S. Katz, CFA
At the time of this article's writing, the author had positions in KHC.