Retail stocks missed out on most of Wednesday’s dramatic stock rally, but the plan by central banks to ensure the financial markets continue to function despite Europe’s debt troubles could draw investor attention back to business basics just as stores hit the peak holiday season.
The S&P Retail Index, which started off the week with a big gain following strong Black Friday sales, rose a mild 1.6 percent, or 8.22 points, to 527.43 as the Dow Jones Industrial Average retook the 12,000 mark in a late-afternoon burst, jumping 4.2 percent, or 490 points, to 12,045.68. It was the best day on Wall Street since the depths of the U.S. financial crisis in March 2009.
Andrew Fitzpatrick, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates, said the outlook was positive, although investors might have gotten ahead of themselves in the rally and could pare back some of the dramatic gains as they refocus.
“It sort of takes the headline risk off the table,” Fitzpatrick said. “Europe could be pushed to the sidelines here and we [could] get back to the fundamentals, get back to the economy, get back to more news of the day, which could bode well for stocks in December.”
Fitzpatrick said it looks like the retail momentum gained during the start of the holiday selling season could continue.
Among the companies that did catch the wave Wednesday were Saks Inc., up 10.2 percent to $9.52; Iconix Brand Group Inc., 8 percent to $17.26; J.C. Penney Co. Inc., 5.9 percent to $32.04, and The Warnaco Group Inc., 5.2 percent to $50.69. Tiffany & Co. was one of the few companies to post a decline, dipping 0.3 percent to $67.04, following a sharp drop Tuesday, when the jeweler hinted at some luxe weakness in Europe and on the East Coast of the U.S.
Markets also saw a boost when the Federal Reserve’s anecdotal Beige Book report showed economic activity increased at a “slow to moderate pace” from October through mid-November as retailers saw a gain in cold-weather apparel sales in many regions.
The Fed said retailers in a few regions that it tracks reported colder weather had “spurred apparel sales.” Retailers in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis and San Francisco saw sales gains. Sales “rebounded” in Richmond and same-store sales were “on or ahead of plan” in New York. Revenue growth in Dallas moderated, while merchants in Atlanta and St. Louis reported weaker activity.
The Fed, along with the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, the Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank agreed to cut the prices on U.S. dollar liquidity swaps, which would help keep money moving through the global financial system. The banks also agreed to set up swap arrangements so other currencies will be readily available should the need arise.
“The purpose of these actions is to ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity,” said the Federal Reserve, which is led by chairman Ben S. Bernanke.
In Europe, Frankfurt’s DAX led the upswing, rising 5 percent to 6,088.84, followed by Milan’s FTSE MIB, which climbed 4.4 percent to 15,268.66, and Paris’ CAC 40 which soared 4.2 percent to 3,154.62.
Stocks gaining the most included Mulberry Group, which rocketed 15 percent to 16.25 pounds; Ferragamo, 13.3 percent to 11.30 euros; Benetton Group, 7.9 percent to 3.65 euros, and Carrefour, which rose 6.4 percent to 19.75 euros.
The euro slipped fractionally against the dollar to $1.34, while the pound dipped modestly to $1.57.
The banks’ announcement came as thousands of public sector workers took to the streets in Britain to protest against changes to their pension plans.
In one of the biggest strikes Britain has seen in more than a decade, schools, hospitals, libraries and other public services shut down. Public-sector workers were protesting against having to work longer and pay more money into their pensions.