Feb. 20 - Summary: Hewlett-Packard's revenue fall less than expected, U.S. manufacturing may be strongest in years, S&P 500 nears record high, Wal-Mart struggles amid cuts in food stamps. Carmen Roberts reports.
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Manufacturing punches in strong for February, sending the S&P 500 near a record. A preliminary reading shows U.S. factory activity accelerated this month at its fastest pace in nearly four years.
That outshines the string of weaker-than-expected earnings reports from companies including Wal-Mart. The world's largest retailer stumbles on higher taxes, tougher credit, stiff holiday shopping competition, and a Congressional cut in the food stamp program.
Ken Perkins of Morningstar:
SOUNDBITE: KEN PERKINS, ASSOCIATE EQUITY ANALYST, MORNINGSTAR (ENGLISH) SAYING:
"You can clearly see company targets a customer base that is generally a lower-income customer than some of its other competitors. A quite substantial cut to the food stamp program is a challenge. The maximum allotment has been cut by at least five percent in November. And I think the impact of those cuts is bigger than Wal-Mart had expected at a time when the consumer is already constrained."
Wal-Mart shares slid after saying sales fell for a fourth straight quarter and full-year profit will be less than analysts expected.
Freezing temperatures hurt manufacturing in the mid-Atlantic region, even as overall U.S. factory output looks stronger. The labor market also looks a bit better. The number of Americans filing for first time unemployment benefits fell last week.
Hewlett-Packard's revenue falls less than expected. HP said after the close that first quarter revenue fell one percent from a year ago to $28.2 billion as it struggles with rapidly falling demand for PCs.
WhatsApp is what's up with Facebook shares one-day after buying the mobile-messaging startup for $19 billion.
Facebook helped drive U.S. stocks higher as the social network and Tesla Motors reached record highs. Optimism over manufacturing set a positive tone for Wall Street.
In Europe, investors are concerned as a truce in Ukraine falls apart and violence erupts into the bloodiest day since Soviet times. As for the markets, shares in Germany, France and the U.K. ended little changed.
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