May 16 - Summary of business headlines: U.S. stocks reverse modest gains on suggestion Fed could start curtailing stimulus by the summer; Dismal after-the-bell results from J.C. Penney and Dell; retail miss at high and low ends; economic data weak. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Wall Street gave back the little bitty gain it did have after one Federal Reserve official hinted policymakers could start tapping on the brakes when it comes to its stimulus program as early as this summer. The slide wasn't deep though - losses were half a percent or less for the Dow, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. Right after the bell - earnings at Dell - worse than the consensus, plummeting 79 percent, but sales were ahead of analysts' targets. J.C. Penney says first quarter revenues drooped more than 16 percent; that's in-line with a recent warning, but still worse than analysts own predictions. And the quarterly loss was much bigger than feared. The struggling retailer has a new CEO but admits "there is a good deal of work ahead." On the upper-end of the retail scale, Nordstrom missed both revenue and profit forecasts, blaming weak sales in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest. Similar story on the lower-end. Sales and profits at Wal-Mart came in below estimates. The world's biggest retailer - blaming higher taxes in the U.S., and of course the weather. Kohl's managed to turn a better-than-expected profit as tight inventories offset poor sales. In terms of stock performance: Kohl's was the only winner in the group thanks to an upbeat outlook. Economic data gave investors reason for concern... Unemployment lines grew significantly last week to the longest in six months... Housing starts tumbled 16-1/2 percent in April but permits for future building rose... Consumer prices nose-dived by the biggest amount in four years. While falling gasoline prices were a major reason, costs were lower across the board. Inflation is trending below the Fed's target and that has implications for interest rate policy. In Europe, stocks were mostly lower but not in Germany with the Dax closing at a record for the eighth day running.