Feb. 15 - Summary of business headlines: S&P 500 posts seventh weekly gain, Wal-Mart sinks on sales worries; Consumer sentiment up in February; Burger King tops forecasts but Europe horsemeat scandal a concern; Data point to muted economic growth. Conway G. Gittens reports.
The S&P 500 logs its seventh weekly gain, a feat not seen since the beginning of 2011. But the market is looking tired when you consider the daily numbers were very little changed. And the Dow and Nasdaq basically went nowhere for the week. Concerns about the consumer emerged late in the session. An email by a mid-level executive at Wal-Mart, calling sales in February the worst start to a month in seven years, caught investors' attention. Bloomberg quoted the email in a report. Shares of Wal-Mart fell 2.1 percent, even though a spokesperson hinted to Reuters that the email was taken out of context. Investors are watching retailers and consumers very closely for any impact from the return of the payroll tax. The latest read on consumer attitudes actually show an improvement. Consumer sentiment rose more than expected this month, according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey. Sticking with consumers, Burger King beat profit and sales forecasts thanks to an expanding menu. But there's trouble in Europe with a recession and now a horse meat scare hurting demand. Shares of Burger King rose 4.7 percent on the day. Earnings season is winding down, nearly 400 companies in the S&P 500 have reported. 70 percent beat earnings forecasts and 66 percent topped sales targets. Those are higher rates than normal, according to Reuters data. Jim Awad of Plimsoll Mark Capital. SOUNDBITE: JIM AWAD, CHAIRMAN, PLIMSOLL MARK CAPITAL (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I would say at this point, a lot of the good earnings season is priced in to the market and now investors are going to start focusing on the going forward earnings in the first quarter. We've had a good run in the markets, which has corresponded with good earnings season, now we have to worry about the first quarter." In the latest economic update, industrial production fell in January but numbers were upwardly revised for the prior two months. Also, manufacturing activity in the New York surprisingly expanded after contracting the month before. Looking to Europe - stocks in Germany and France headed lower, but the UK just barely made it into the plus column.