After Market: 'Not As Bad As Expected' Was Good Enough for Gains

Retail stocks and homebuilders rallied Wednesday, but the overall market mostly marched in place. For the third day in a row, the major averages posted strong, early gains, then retreated, though all closed higher. The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) ended the day up just 18 points, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) gained 4, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) was just fractionally higher. The S&P continues to test its all-time high, but again failed to close at a record.

Many leading retailers posted so-so fourth-quarter earnings, but the numbers weren't as bad as Wall Street had feared.

Target (TGT) jumped 7 percent. Its net plunged from a year ago, but still beat expectations. Investors were apparently relieved that the damage from its recent credit card hacking scandal was not worse.

Lowe's (LOW) gained 5½ percent. The home improvement retailer posted strong sales and announced a $5 billion stock buyback program. Barnes & Noble (BKS) swung to a profit. Its stock rose 4 percent on the day and is now up 25 percent over the past month.

Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) posted sharply lower results, but investors were expecting even worse. The stock jumped 11 percent, but it's still lower than it was a year ago. Competitors benefited too. Aeropostale (ARO) gained 7 percent and American Eagle (AEO) gained 4½ percent.

Other retail winners included Macy's (M) and Dillard's (DDS), both up 3 percent, and a couple of smaller chains -- Stage Store (SSI) and Bon-Ton (BON), both up 5 percent.

Investors also raised the roof on housing stocks as new home sales jumped nearly 10 percent last month, despite the horrible weather. Lennar (LEN), Pulte (PHM), Beazer (BZH), Ryland (RYL) and Hovnanian (HOV) all gained between 3 percent and 5 percent. Elsewhere, Sturm Ruger (RGR) fell 8 percent as gun sales slowed.

Dreamworks (DWA) tumbled 12 percent. Earnings fell short of expectations, largely because the movie "Turbo" was a box office dud. But Anika Therapeutics (ANIK) jumped 33 percent after the FDA approved the company's treatment for pain from osteoarthritis.

What to Watch Thursday:

  • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Commerce Department reports durable goods orders for January, and the Labor Department reports weekly jobless claims.

These major companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial statements:

  • AMC Networks (AMCX)

  • Best Buy (BBY)

  • Chico's FAS (CHS)

  • Chiquita Brands International (CQB)

  • Gap (GPS)

  • Hilton Worldwide Holdings (HLT)

  • Kohl's (KSS)

  • Ross Stores (ROST)

  • Sears Holdings (SHLD)

  • Sotheby's (BID)

  • Wendy's (WEN)

  • Zale (ZLC)

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.