Stocks Soar as the Focus Returns to Earnings

One of first rules about investing is to stay focused.

The 10-year Treasury bond yield on Thursday pulled back from the dreaded threshold of 3%, giving investors some breathing room to focus on first-quarter earnings results. Those results were good. The main stock indices soared today, with tech shares in the vanguard.

The wisest course for investors in the days ahead is to tune out the media’s white noise and seek clarity from empirical data. Forget scandals and presidential tweets. Focus on the fundamentals, of which there will be plenty to scrutinize during first-quarter earnings season.

Positive economic data also cheered investors today. The U.S. Labor Department reported that initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 209,000 for the week ended April 21. That’s the lowest level since December 1969, when a guy named Richard Nixon occupied the White House. Economists had forecast claims falling to 230,000 in the latest week.

The unemployment rate remains at 4.1%, a 17-year low. The Federal Reserve considers the country to be at or near “full employment.”

Facebook gets recharged…

Facebook (NSDQ: FB) reported strong first-quarter results after the market closed on Wednesday. Wall Street’s response: Scandal? What scandal?

The Cambridge Analytica data privacy controversy, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s maladroit testimony earlier this month before Congress, fears of tighter federal regulation of social media firms — suddenly, none of these concerns seemed to matter. Earnings results spoke loudest.

Facebook posted $4.99 billion in quarterly earnings on revenue of $11.97 billion, exceeding analysts’ average estimates of $4.01 billion in earnings and $11.41 billion in revenue. Earnings per share (EPS) came in at $1.69, handily beating the consensus estimate of $1.35.

The activist campaign to get users to delete their Facebook accounts? Fugheddabout. Facebook added 70 million users in the first quarter, meeting user-growth expectations. FB shares today spiked 9.06%.

Two additional technology stalwarts released impressive earnings results yesterday after the close.

Advanced Micro Devices (NSDQ: AMD) reported EPS of 11 cents versus 9 cents as expected by analysts. Revenue came in at $1.65 billion vs. the expected $1.57 billion. Management also issued guidance that topped estimates. AMD shares today jumped 13.70%.

Qualcomm (NSDQ: QCOM) reported EPS of 80 cents, compared to the forecast of 70 cents. Revenue reached $5.23 billion vs. the expected $5.19 billion. QCOM shares climbed 1.45%.

Both chipmakers had been under pressure, amid analyst forecasts that chip demand would slump. The companies defied the pessimists today, as did Facebook. Qualcomm also has been struggling ever since its fight to resist takeover efforts from rival Broadcom (NSDQ: AVGO).

Today’s renewed signs of tech sector strength ignited a Nasdaq rally. The benchmark Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLK) rose 1.80%.

A sugar high?

Investors were encouraged Thursday by the latest earnings results. Visa (NYSE: V) also beat on earnings, posting EPS of $1.11 vs. the expected $1.02.

But the bulls lack long-term conviction. Notably, excitement over the U.S. tax cut bill seems to be waning as the implications become clearer.

Tax cuts give a big one-time boost to corporate bottom lines, especially in the banking sector. But over the long haul, the price will be massive federal budget deficits that seem likely to generate economic and financial instability.

Recent euphoria over tax cuts reminds me of what my mom used to call a “sugar high.” Whether shareholders benefit from the tax windfall depends on how corporations use the money. Enlightened managers will devote the cash to investments that produce organic growth.

President Trump’s anti-tax rhetoric appealed to Wall Street in the immediate aftermath of the presidential election, but the president’s populist policies are a double-edged sword.

Witness the agita that Trump’s protectionist trade measures have caused investors. You’d be hard pressed to find a business or financial leader who thinks tariffs and trade wars are good for anybody.

But don’t pay too much attention to policy ups and downs. Ignore the lurid headlines emanating from the nation’s capital. The insurgent nature of the Trump administration ensures daily uncertainty for the duration of his regime.

As partisan rancor worsens, Washington, DC increasingly resembles a rowdy kindergarten in need of adult supervision. Politics right now is a distraction from your long-term investment goals. Heed the timeless advice that a wise metro editor once gave to a young reporter: Stay focused.

Thursday Market Wrap

  • DJIA: +0.99% or +238.51 points to close at 24,322.34
  • S&P 500: +1.04% or +27.54 points to close at 2,666.94
  • Nasdaq: +1.64% or +114.94 points to close at 7,118.68

Thursday’s Big Gainers

  • Comstock Resources (NYSE: CRK) +46.64%

Energy firm in talks to buy prolific new assets in North Dakota.

  • MarineMax (NYSE: HZO) +26.50

Recreational boat retailer excels on earnings.

  • Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) +24.60%

Restaurant chain beats on earnings.

Thursday’s Big Decliners

  • LKQ: (NSDQ: LKQ) -19.07%

Auto parts distributor misses on earnings.

  • LeMaitre Vascular (NSDQ: LMAT) -17.06%

Profit taking hits medical device maker after big run-up.

  • FARO Technologies (NSDQ: FARO) -13.19%

3D imaging firm’s operating results disappoint.

Letters to the Editor

“Are companies that provide clean water an investment opportunity?” — Frank H.

One of the surest ways to make money in a turbulent world is to invest in unstoppable trends that are transforming societies and economies. The growing need for water fits this description.

Driving demand for clean water are extreme weather, severe drought, overpopulation, pollution, and urbanization. Water companies are smart bets now.

Got questions about big investment themes? Give me a shout:

John Persinos is managing editor of Personal Finance and chief investment strategist of Breakthrough Tech Profits.