Retail Hits New High Despite Off Day for Stocks

Sector shines as market sags under weaker-than-expected private payrolls.

A weaker than expected reading on private payrolls last month weighed on Wall Street today, but retail stocks continued to chug along, closing at a new all-time high.

The S&P Retail Index rose 0.9 percent, or 5.90 points, to 655.72, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 10.75 points to 13,268.57.

In a positive sign for the retail deal-making environment, shares of Ascena Retail Group Inc. rose 10.4 percent to $21.06 after the company inked a deal to acquire Charming Shoppes Inc. for $7.35 a share. It’s not uncommon for a company taking on the challenges of an acquisition to see its stock drop on the news. Charming Shoppes’ shares increased 23.9 percent to $7.31.

So far this year, there have been 62 deals announced in the apparel and footwear retail sector globally, carrying a total value of $3.66 billion, according to Dealogic. That’s about the same number of deals seen at this time last year, but just over twice the value.

Also gaining ground was American Eagle Outfitters, which boosted first-quarter earnings guidance to 18 cents to 20 cents a diluted share, up from the 8 cents to 10 cents previously projected. The stock jumped 16.8 percent to $20.90.

Outside of retail, the mood wasn’t so cheery.

The ADP National Employment Report showed U.S. nonfarm private payrolls rose 119,000 in April from March, well below the 180,000 gain economists expected.

“While April’s increase was the 27th consecutive monthly advance, it nonetheless reflected a deceleration in the recent pace of hiring,” said Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers. “This deceleration seems consistent with other incoming data, including a disappointingly weak report on first-quarter gross domestic product, a recent back-up in initial unemployment claims, and last month’s relatively weak reading on establishment employment reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

In Europe, markets were mixed as unemployment in the euro zone hit a record high and construction growth in the U.K. slowed.

The FTSE MIB in Milan logged the sharpest drop, falling 2.6 percent to 14,213.17, followed by the FTSE 100, which tumbled 0.9 percent to 5,758.11. The DAX in Frankfurt sank 0.8 percent to 6,710.77.

The only market that closed on an upswing was the CAC 40 in Paris, which was up 0.4 percent to 3,226.33.

The biggest gainers included Burberry Group, up 2.2 percent to 15.15 pounds; Luxottica Group, 3.1 percent to 27.88 euros; Mulberry Group, 2.4 percent to 24.17 pounds; and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, 2.6 percent to 128.40 euros.

Losing ground were Ferragamo, which sank 6.6 percent to 17.25 euros; Geox, 3 percent to 2.36 euros, and Milan Bourse newcomer, Brunello Cucinelli, which after debuting with a bang on Friday, dropped 3.9 percent to close at 11.53 euros.

The euro traded at $1.32, while the pound traded at $1.62.

Unemployment in the Euro zone reached a record high in March of 10.9 percent, according to Eurostat, Europe’s statistics office. More than 3 million of the 17.4 million people looking for work are under the age of 25.

In the UK, the Markit/CIPS construction purchasing managers index fell to 55.8, signaling a slowdown in growth in April compared with march. The index measures activity in the construction sector, and the slowdown helped to nudge the U.K. back into recession last month.