Tax Bill Moves Along, Retailers Rally and the Dow Sinks Again — Week in Review

Wall Street pulled back from recent highs in the past week even as the Republicans’ tax bill made progress in the House and retailers rallied on better-than-expected earnings.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.27% over the past week after having fallen three out of the past five sessions. The index closed with losses for the second week in a row. The Dow has not seen a back-to-back weekly decline since mid-August.

The S&P 500 was also lower, but just barely. The index dropped 0.13% over the past five sessions, also its second week of losses in a row.

The tech sector drove the Nasdaq to a weekly gain of 0.47%. The index also ended Thursday, Nov. 16, with an all-time closing high.

A Great Week for Retail

It was a good week for retailers with better-than-expected earnings from Walmart Stores Inc. (WMT) , Gap Inc. (GPS) , Foot Locker Inc. (FL) and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF) .

Walmart reported its ninth consecutive quarterly earnings beat. Revenue surged 4.2% to $123.2 billion over the quarter, higher than consensus of $121 billion. Adjusted earnings of $1 a share beat by 3 cents.

U.S. same-store sales rose 2.7%, while same-store traffic increased 1.5%. U.S. e-commerce sales, an area of focus for the company, grew 50%.

Gap reported its fourth consecutive quarter of same-store sales growth. During the fiscal third quarter, ended Oct. 28, Gap generated sales of $3.84 billion, up 1% year over year and ahead of the consensus estimate of $3.76 billion, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet. Same-store sales jumped 3%. Earnings of 58 cents a share exceeded estimates of 54 cents.

At Old Navy, Gap’s strongest franchise, sales rose 4%, the same amount as they did a year earlier. Gap brand sales grew 1%, up from a 4% decline last year, while sales at Banana Republic fell 1%, an improvement from the 6% decline last year.

The San Francisco-based retailer also increased its full-year earnings guidance to $2.08 to $2.12 to share, up from $2.02 to $2.10.

Foot Locker posted better-than-expected profit and revenue over its third quarter. Adjusted earnings of 87 cents a share beat estimates by seven cents. Revenue of $1.87 billion exceeded expectations of $1.83 billion. Same-store sales fell by 3.7%, a narrower dip than consensus of a 4.6% decline. CEO Richard Johnson said the sportshoe retailer faced a “highly promotional” retail environment over the quarter.

Abercrombie & Fitch earned quarterly profit of 30 cents a share, which topped estimates by eight cents. Revenue increased nearly 5% to $859.11 million and exceeded consensus by $40.2 million. Comparable sales roared 4% higher, largely driven by growth at its Hollister brand. Comps were far better than an expected 0.3% increase. Gross margins expanded by 80 basis points to 61.3%.

Target Corp. (TGT) beat earnings expectations for the third quarter but warned of a “highly competitive” holiday sales environment. Adjusted earnings were 91 cents a share, down from the same period last year but topping analysts’ expectations of 86 cents. Revenue for the quarter was $16.67 billion, besting the forecast $16.60 billion. Comp sales gained 0.9% and digital sales increased 24% over last year.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS)  beat third-quarter estimates, posting adjusted per share earnings of 30 cents and topping analysts’ expectations of 26 cents. Revenue beat forecasts, too, totaling $1.94 billion compared with estimates of $1.89 billion for the three months ended Oct. 30. Same-store sales fell 0.9%, which was a narrower-than-expected decline. The company’s rosy earnings beat was muted by its updated outlook: Dick’s said 2018 earnings could fall as much as 20%.

Best Buy Co. (BBY) was shut out of retail gains after missing third-quarter sales estimates and issuing a weak forecast. Earnings of 78 cents a share rose from 61 cents a year earlier and matched analysts’ estimates. However, revenue of $9.32 billion fell short of $9.36 billion consensus. Domestic same-store sales gained 4.5%, below targets of a 4.9% rise.

For its fourth quarter, Best Buy expects sales of $14.2 billion to $14.5 billion, in-line with estimates. Adjusted earnings guidance of $1.89 to $1.99 a share fell short of $2.03 consensus.

Williams-Sonoma Inc. (WSM)  posted a narrow earnings miss. The homewares retailer earned 84 cents a share, up from 78 cents a share in the year-ago quarter, but a penny below consensus. Hurricanes Harvey and Maria cut down earnings-per-share by two cents. Revenue increased 4.3% to $1.3 billion, slightly above estimates.

Tax Plans Make Progress

The Republicans’ tax bill made progress in the House this week. Enough GOP leaders in the House voted in support of a tax reform bill on Thursday, Nov. 16, pushing the bill through to the Senate. The House GOP’s $5.5 trillion tax package attracted 227 votes in support and 205 in dissent, including 13 Republicans. The GOP could only afford 22 nay votes from its own party.

The House GOP’s plan cuts the corporate tax rate to 20%, down from 35%, limits the number of income brackets to four from seven, and proposes a top income tax rate of 35% for the highest earners making up to $1 million.

The affirmative vote in the House is the first step in pushing Republicans’ tax reform plans into law. But it won’t be a process without hurdles — the Senate GOP’s bill diverges from the House’s in key aspects. Among the largest, the Senate bill has proposed repealing the Obamacare mandate.

A number of Senate Republicans have already voiced their concern. Sen. Ron Johnson said the bill does not go far enough for small businesses, Sen. John McCain said he leans toward the tax cuts but critiqued how the process had veered from “regular order,” and Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski have criticized the affect a mandate repeal could have on premiums. McCain, Collins and Murkowski voted against the GOP’s health care bill in July.

The Senate plans to take a vote on its tax bill early next month.

The U.S. Economy Chugs Along

U.S. economic data came in generally strong in the past week, further cementing the chances of a rate hike when the Federal Reserve meets in December. The chances of a 25-basis-point increase in December sit at 92%, according to CME Group fed funds futures. This would mark the third increase of the year following hikes in March and June and the fourth since the financial crisis.

Industrial production in the U.S. rose at a faster pace than expected last month. The Federal Reserve reported a 0.9% rise in production in October, faster than an expected 0.5% increase. The gain was also three times the growth rate in September.

The Consumer Price Index for October rose 0.1%, meeting the expectations of economists surveyed by FactSet. Retail sales for October rose 0.2% vs. estimates the figure would rise 0.1%. The Empire State Manufacturing Survey for November was 19.4, coming in lower than economists’ expectations for a reading of 26.

The U.S. Producer Price Index for October increased 0.4%, topping expectations the figure would grow 0.1%.

Housing starts in October jumped and exceeded estimates. New construction on housing surged 13.7% in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.29 million, according to the Census Bureau. Analysts expected a dip to 1.19 million after a reading of 1.127 million in September. Building permits rose by 5.9% to 1.3 million, also ahead of consensus.

“The strength in starts and permits this month comes on the heels of yesterday’s rise in home builder sentiment to an 8-month high,” Scott Volling, principal at PwC, wrote in a note. “While builders continue to face rising costs and a challenging environment for labor and land, they are buoyed up by a shortage of existing homes for sale which is driving buyers to new homes.”

Import price growth slowed in October and came in at half of what analysts expected. Prices rose by 0.2%, driven by increases in the cost of petroleum, though food prices declined. Analysts expected an increase of 0.4% after a 0.8% gain in September.

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