NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
A parade of earnings announcements marched through Wall Street on Wednesday, and unlike the coming Easter Parade, this one wasn't pretty. After two positive sessions to start the week, the Dow was slammed into the red by Coke, 3M, and others. And though results from Microsoft and Intel helped the Nasdaq make early gains, by the end of the day those advances all but disappeared.
Despite the barrage of financial info out today, the outlook for the rest of the year remains hazy. So all in all the Dow fell 144.75 to close at 8,257.61, with 26 of the 30 components falling. The Nasdaq added 3.71 to end at 1,394.72. And the S&P 500 lost 10.90 points to 879.91. Read Loose Change for news on the coffee that is taking over the world.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE At least there are no worries about inflation, as U.S. prices stayed flat last month, with the exception of a jump in food and energy prices. The latest rise in energy costs means that over the last three months prices have risen at an annual rate of nearly 77 percent...
A Commerce Department report brought some more good news: Housing starts jumped 8.3 percent in March, the largest gain since September, beating analysts' expectations.
THE NUMBERS Coca-Cola, the great American brand, posted 34 cents a share in first-quarter earnings, in line with analysts' expectations. Those numbers are a vast improvement over the net loss of 8 cents a share from the year-ago period, but analysts were negative about the "quality of earnings." This bad vibe on the company made it the largest percentage loser on the Dow, with KO sliding $2.63 (more than 6 percent!) to $39.90.
Altria reported earnings of $1.07 a share, down two cents from the year-earlier period, but a penny a share above the average analyst estimate. The company reaffirmed its annual profit target, but net revenues for the quarter fell 5.7 percent, and so the stock dropped 75 cents to close at $31.70.
3M took a dive after JP Morgan trimmed the post-it maker's estimates. MMM shares fell $4.64 to $129. Caterpillar reported stronger-than-expected first-quarter earnings of 37 cents per share, an increase over its 23 cents a year ago, and far exceeding analyst estimates. CAT doesn't always land on its feet, though. Shares fell 94 cents to $51.41.
A bunch of banks also reported, with JP Morgan Chase showing an increased profit from the year-before period. The stock lost 37 cents to $26.50.
WHAT SAVED NASDAQ Microsoft and Intel certainly did their job as bellwethers, lifting techs today. Intel bested analyst expectations with first-quarter earnings of $915 million on revenue of $6.75 billion, near the top of a revised range. Analysts took these earnings and projected second-quarter sales as a sign that the company is on track, and INTC stock shot up $1.03 to $18.16.
Microsoft's current quarter results weren't too shabby either, with net profit at the high end of expectations of $2.79 billion. And the company boosted its full-year earnings outlook by two cents. But the company, which has a history of underpromising, said that 2004 revenues would rise only moderately, to $33.1 billion to $33.8 billion from the $32 billion the company expects for this fiscal year. MSFT added 31 cents to $24.92.
Starbucks agreed to acquire hometown rival Seattle Coffee Co.'s North American operations -- 129 Seattle's Best Coffee stores and 21 Torrefazione Italia stores. The deal with AFC Enterprises, owner of a number of chains including Popeye's and Cinnabon, will cost Starbucks about $72 million in cash.
Rather than transforming all the coffee shops into more Starbucks, the company is going to keep the chains intact. The deal should cut Starbucks' fiscal 2003 earnings by roughly one cent a share, but should be accretive beginning in fiscal 2004. Investors were skeptical and today SBUX lost $1.01 to $25.73...
Spring has finally made its way to New York and the city's restaurants, desperate for business, are doing everything they can to capitalize on the blooming season and drag customers in for dinner. I've gotten press releases touting menus with every conceivable spring flora (sauteed fiddlehead ferns, ragu of stinging nettles) and cute Easter fauna (lamb, duck, and rabbit).
These dishes may worry the Easter Bunny, but chefs are hoping they'll catch the eye of winter-weary diners. A handful of eateries launching spring menus are putting on a special dinner at hip Brasserie 8 1/2 on April 22. If the weather turns cold again, as it is expected to, New Yorkers should find their way there or to any spring menu...
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