Stocks Weighed Down by Disappointing Retail Sales and Consumer Confidence


Disappointing retail sales and consumer confidence figures have thrown a wrench in the market's rally today. As of 2:45 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off by 29 points, or 0.19%.

Earlier today, the Department of Commerce released figures for nationwide March retail sales (link opens PDF). The data showed that Americans spent 0.4% less last month, marking the largest decline in nine months. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected no change in the reading.

In other bad news, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index dropped to 72.3 in its preliminary April reading. That's the lowest level since July and well below the consensus forecast of 79.3. According to an economist quoted by, "People presumably are responding to the news the Congress chose to implement the sequester; the cash-flow drain imposed by the payroll tax increase can't be helping either."

On the individual-company front, two of the nation's largest banks reported first-quarter earnings today. Net income at JPMorgan Chase increased by an impressive 33%, and the bank originated 37% more mortgages than it did in the same quarter of last year. As my colleague John Grgurich put it, "Quarter after quarter, JPMorgan continues to perform at the highest level, even given continuing challenging economic conditions and an already softening mortgage market."

And Wells Fargo similarly reported stellar results. For the quarter, it earned $5.2 billion, the highest quarterly profit in the bank's history. It also underwrote a staggering $109 billion in mortgages -- though this was down on both a year-over-year basis and a sequential basis. As Wells Fargo's CFO observed in prepared remarks (link opens PDF), "This is our 13th consecutive quarter of EPS growth and 8th consecutive quarter of record EPS."

The best-performing stock on the Dow today is home improvement Home Depot , which is up 2.2% after an analyst at Jefferies upgraded the stock from hold to buy. He also slapped an $85 price target on it; the shares currently trade for $73.

Alternatively, the worst-performing stock on the blue-chip index is Alcoa . The aluminum giant kicked first-quarter earnings season off earlier this week by beating analyst estimates on the bottom line but coming up short on the top line. However, today's performance is likely more of a reflection on the seemingly deteriorating state of the American consumer.

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John Maxfield has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot and Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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