MARKET EXHAUSTED, TAKES A BREATHER

Stocks are mixed in early trading (Dow -33 pts; SPX -.2%). The energy sectors is slumping 1.2%. Banks, biotechs and telecom stocks are also falling. Defensive sectors are faring better, but there’s little conviction in today’s trade. Investors are busy digesting the flow of earnings announcements.

AT&T (T) reported mixed fist quarter results, with revenue falling shy of Wall Street estimates. I’m not sure that’s a big deal though. Due to the acquisition of Time Warner, all the numbers are temporarily distorted (i.e. revenue shot up 18% from year-ago levels). Earnings-per-share matched analysts’ estimates but grew only 1% from year-ago levels. Wireless subscriber growth took Wall Street completely by surprise, rising by 80,000 vs. the expectation for a 40,000 loss. That was apparently the result of price cuts to compete more effectively. Not surprisingly, wireless revenue was a bit soft. Investors weren’t impressed and the stock is down 4% today. But it’s really much too early to pass judgment on the success of the company’s shift toward media content.

Chevron (CVX) is down 2.5% this morning after being outbid in its attempt to acquire Anadarko Petroleum (APC). Bloomberg says, “The first major bidding war has broken out in the Permian.” Earlier this month, CVX and APC agreed to a $33bil merger, but Occidental Petroleum (OXY) is seeking to break up that deal with a $38bil offer. Analysts generally believe a tie-up between CVX & APC or OXY & APC makes a lot of strategic sense. But the deal size is pretty massive, requiring the acquirer to take on substantial debt. Not surprisingly, bonds issued by CVX and OXY fell in price today.

Anthem (ANTM) reported excellent first quarter results, and the stock is pretty flat in reaction. The company posted 9% revenue growth and 11% earnings-per-share growth. Health plan subscribers grew by 1.2 million to a total membership of 40.8 million people. The company apparently gained market share in commercial, Medicare and Medicaid business lines. Management did a good job of controlling costs, except for a one-time hit related to taxes. Finally, management raised full-year earnings guidance. This is an excellent example of a great business with a weak stock. Traders and hedge funders are treating the stock like a contagious disease after socialists in Congress threatened to destroy private health insurance and replace it will a government-run system. ANTM is down 4% this year and is trading at a forward P/E ratio of just 12 compared with the S&P 500’s 17.


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