Ultimate Market Recap: Apple at All-Time High, Bernanke’s Bad Outlook

Wall Street Watch: Apple Hits Meteoric Heights, First Solar Earnings Flame Out

Greece moved one step closer toward receiving its bailout funds. After a 202-80 vote, the country’s parliament ratified a EUR $3.2 billion package of spending cuts in a 202-80 vote. Today another vote will take place on fixed changes to pension funds and healthcare spending. This has been required by European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for an infusion of fund at EUR 130 billion.

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France’s data protection regulator, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes (CNIL), plans to launch an investigation into Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) new privacy policy. The agency said after an initial review, it believed the policy did not follow European laws with regard to the protection of an individuals’ privacy, according to Reuters.

In a February 27 letter to the Internet company, the regulator said the investigation encompasses European regulators and it will send questions to the company by the middle of March.

Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) closing stock price of $535.41 on Tuesday represented an all-time high. With a slight rise on Wednesday, it could join the elite market capitalization club of $500 billion. Only five stock have hit this level including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), General Electric (NYSE:GE), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM). The Wall Street Journal noted that three of these stocks who hit this level, “popped” after the 2000 technology boom. Apple’s stock is poised to keep rising after the introduction of its iPad 3 in early March.

First Solar’s (NASDAQ:FSLR) stock tanked in after-hours trading on Tuesday after reporting a disappointing fourth quarter earnings report. The company saw a net loss of $413.1 million from write-downs, charges and decreased sales prices. This compares to a $155.9 million profit in the previous year.

The company’s adjusted earnings per share declined to $1.26 from $1.88 while revenues increased 8 percent to $660 million; both of these numbers missed estimates. With a weaker than expected demand, First Solar lowered its 2012 revenue guidance.

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First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) shares fell 6.5 percent early Wednesday.  The company recently reported a loss of $4.78 per share in the fourth quarter, compared to a loss of $1.80 per share a year earlier.  Analysts expected a quarterly profit of $1.24 per share.

Centerpoint Energy Inc. (NYSE:CNP) edged slightly higher, despite reporting a 5.6 percent decline in fourth quarter income.  The company earned $117 million (27 cents per share), compared to $124 million (29 cents per share) a year earlier.

Shares of Coinstar Inc. (NASDAQ:CSTR) declined 2.3 percent before the opening bell.  The video company was downgraded to neutral from overweight at J.P. Morgan (NYSE:JPM).

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Central European Distribution Corp. (NASDAQ:CEDC) shares plummeted 28 percent after missing fourth quarter estimates.  The Polish vodka maker also said it doesn’t have enough cash to pay its 2013 convertible senior notes.

Joy Global Inc. (NASDAQ:JOY) shares edged .70 percent higher Wednesday morning.  The company reported an increase in profits to $142.4 million, compared to $102.2 million a year earlier.  “We are very pleased with our first quarter, and it gives us a very strong start to our 2012″, said Mike Sutherlin, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our core surface and underground businesses grew revenues by 18 percent, and 23 percent, respectively, and operating leverage enabled them to expand operating margins to over 20 percent.”

Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ:COST) jumped more than 1 percent after strong earnings results.  Profit in the fiscal second quarter increased 13 percent to $394 million, as the company made more money from increased membership fees.

Despite meeting estimates, Staples Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS) shares fell more than 3 percent in morning trading.  Net income increased 3.2 percent to $283.6 million (41 cents per share), compared to $274.7 million (38 cents per share) a year earlier.

Shares of Sodastream International Limited (NASDAQ:SODA) dropped 12.5 percent, despite reporting record quarterly results.  “This has been a defining year for SodaStream with strong top and bottom line growth in each of the four quarters, driven by robust soda maker and consumable sales,” commented Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream.  “Our U.S. business experienced strong growth in 2011 driven by our launch of new products, retail expansion, and ramped up marketing efforts, including our first TV commercial.  The U.S. is now our largest single market with sales growth at 104% for the year.”

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Markets Close on Sour Note After Bernanke Issues Dire Warning

Markets closed down on Wall Street today: Dow -0.41%, S&P0.47%, Nasdaq -0.67%, Oil +0.33%, Gold -5.25%.

On the commodities front, Oil (NYSE:USO) rose to $106.90 a barrel. Precious metals were down, with Gold (NYSE:GLD) falling to $1,694.50 an ounce while Silver (NYSE:SLV) declined 7.10% to settle at $34.57.

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Today’s markets were down because:

1) Treasuries. Shortly after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke began testifying before Congress this morning, yields on 10-year Treasuries rose above 2 percent from 1.94 percent within minutes. Moments later, gold prices dropped more than 4 percent, and the euro suddenly fell from $1.3460 to $1.3400. But it would be unfair to blame it all on Bernanke — traders speculate that it may have been the result of a large Treasury trade gone awry, which could have caused computer trading models to then make large interrelated trades in currencies and commodities. Chance incident or not, gold and silver futures remain down hours after the conclusion of Bernanke’s testimony, and the euro continues to fall.

2) Bernanke. While the Fed chairman might not be responsible for the drop in commodity prices, he didn’t help matters with his gloomy outlook. Bernanke warned Congress today that unless growth accelerated, the unemployment rate would not keep dropping in the months ahead. And yet he didn’t offer the slightest bit of hope the central bank might undergo a third round of quantitative easing, a controversial albeit seemingly effective measure that in the past has helped stimulate growth.

3) Apple. The Nasdaq crossed the 3,000 mark this morning for the first time since December 2000, thanks in large part to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which jumped to nearly $547 a share in the first few minutes of trading after closing around $535 a share on Tuesday. Apple recently overtook ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) to become the largest publicly traded company in the world by market capitalization, and has seen its share price grow roughly 70 percent since founder and former CEO Steve Jobs died on October 5. However, despite Apple’s help, the Nasdaq quickly turned south to finish the day in the red.

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7 Sizzling Stocks: PetSmart Drops 3%, While Sothebys Plummets 9%

Shares of PetSmart Inc. (NASDAQ:PETM) dropped 3 percent in late trading.  The company reported a 13 percent increase in fourth quarter earnings, but margins declined.  The company earned a profit of $102 million (91 cents per share), compared to $90.3 million (77 cents per share) a year earlier.

Sothebys shares (NYSE:BID) plummeted more than 9 percent after the closing bell.  Net income for the fourth quarter declined 25.7 percent to $71.5 million ($1.04 per share), compared to $96.2 million ($1.40 per share) a year earlier.

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After closing 14 percent lower on Wednesday, Sodastream International Ltd. (NASDAQ:SODA) shares edged lower in late trading.  The company reported strong fourth quarter results, but analysts are concerned about declining unit sales.

J.P. Morgan Chase and Co. (NYSE:JPM) shares fell .30 percent in extended trading hours.  The bank received notice from the SEC that it could face charges over mortgage-backed investments.  Similar disclosures were also made by Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC).

Shares of Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ) bounced higher after reporting sales increased 23 percent in February to $40.2 million.  Same-store sales also increased 14.2 percent.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Lindsey Grossman at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com