By MATTHEW CRAFT
NEW YORK — The stock market ended an uncertain day mostly lower after the price of oil took another plunge. Stronger profits at Disney (DIS) pushed its stock higher, giving the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) a small lift.
Major indexes headed lower at the opening bell, as a drop in crude oil tugged energy stocks down. The Standard Poor’s 500 index (^GSPC) recovered its losses by midday, meandered through the afternoon, then swung from a solid gain to a slight loss in the final hour of trading.
“I think there’s a sense of uneasiness and lack of conviction among investors right now,” said Terry Sandven, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “You see that in the split personality of the market.”
The Standard Poor’s 500 index fell 8.52 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,041.51. The Dow edged up 6.62 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 17,673.02 and the Nasdaq (^IXIC)sank 11.03 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,716.70.
Over the previous six trading days, the market turned in three gains and three losses. Sandven said rising uncertainty over corporate earnings has helped drive the volatility. Falling oil prices and a stronger dollar have pinched companies’ profits, forcing investors to second-guess their expectations.
Late Tuesday, Walt Disney reported that strong results from theme parks, television channels and selling merchandise tied to its “Frozen” movie drove quarterly earnings up 19 percent. Disney’s profit and revenue trounced Wall Street’s estimates for the quarter, and its stock surged $7.18, or 8 percent, to $101.28, an all-time high. Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, said the company was not seeing a hit to attendance from the measles outbreak linked last month to Disney’s Southern California parks.
Ralph Lauren’s (RL) stock lost $31.12, or 18 percent, to $139.71, after the retailer reported a drop in quarterly earnings and slashed its sales forecast for the full year. The company spent more to open new stores while revenue stayed nearly flat, held back by a stronger dollar.
Staples (SPLS) announced that it’s buying Office Depot (ODP) for $6 billion in a widely anticipated merger of the two largest office supply retailers. The cash-and-stock deal comes a little more than a year after Office Depot merged with OfficeMax and still needs approval from regulators. Staples dropped $2.28, or 12 percent, to $16.73.
The fourth-quarter earnings season now looks better than it did just two weeks ago. Nearly three out of four big companies have turned in higher profits than analysts had expected, putting overall earnings on track to rise nearly 7 percent for the quarter, according to SP Capital IQ. Two weeks ago, the expected increase was just 4 percent.
Rebound for Oil Fizzles Out
A recent rebound in oil prices fizzled out Wednesday as the benchmark contract for U.S. crude fell $4.60, or 8.7 percent, to settle at $48.45 a barrel in New York. The drop came after the U.S. government reported an increase in crude inventories last week.
Oil had rallied over the previous four days as traders speculated that low prices would force more energy companies to curtail exploration and production. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, declined $3.75, or 6.5 percent, to close at $54.16 a barrel in London.
Major markets in Europe ended mixed. France’s CAC 40 rose 0.4 percent, and Germany’s DAX edged up 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 closed with a loss of 0.2 percent.
Prices wavered in the market for U.S. government bonds, leaving the yield on the 10-year Treasury note at 1.79 percent, the same as late Tuesday.
In the commodity markets, gold rose $4.20 to $1,264.50 an ounce, while silver rose seven cents to $17.40 an ounce. Copper edged up a penny to $2.59 a pound. In other futures trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange:
- Wholesale gasoline fell 12 cents to $1.482 a gallon.
- Heating oil fell 8 cents to close at $1.767 a gallon.
- Natural gas fell 9.2 cents to close at $2.662 per 1,000 cubic feet.
What to watch Thursday:
- At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Commerce Department releases international trade data for December, and the Labor Department releases both weekly jobless claims and fourth-quarter productivity data.
- Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates at 10 a.m.
These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
- Activision Blizzard (ATVI)
- Alliance Data Systems (ADS)
- Astrazeneca (AZN)
- Athenahealth (ATHN)
- Ball (BLL)
- Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD)
- Carlisle Cos. (CSL)
- Charter Communications (CHTR)
- Cigna (CI)
- Delphi Automotive (DLPH)
- Dunkin’ Brands Group (DNKN)
- Entergy (ETR)
- Estee Lauder (EL)
- Expedia (EXPE)
- Gartner (IT)
- GoPro (GPRO)
- GrubHub (GRUB)
- Lazard (LAZ)
- LinkedIn (LNKD)
- Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF)
- Michael Kors Holdings (KORS)
- News Corp. (NWS) (NWSA)
- Pandora Media (P)
- Philip Morris International (PM)
- Sally Beauty Holdings (SBH)
- Sirius XM (SIRI)
- Sprint (S)
- Tempur Sealy International (TPX)
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA)
- Twitter (TWTR)
- Valero Energy Partners (VLP)
- VeriSign (VRSN)
- Vulcan Materials (VMC)
- W.R. Grace (GRA)
- Yelp (YELP)
You may think you’re saving money by using that ancient washing machine or fridge from the ’70s, but when it comes to major appliances, sometimes using it until it gives out isn’t the best strategy.
Appliances that aren’t energy efficient can run up your utility bills and cost you more than you’re saving. More than one-third of refrigerators in America are more 10 years old, and these collectively cost consumers an extra $4.7 billion in energy costs, according to the Department of Energy. (Yes, “billion” with a “b.”) While it may seem counterintuitive to spring for something new when the old model is still “works,” investing in an Energy Star-rated appliance save you an estimated $35 to $300 over its lifetime as compared to your old model.
Bundle up in winter and keep the furnace down a notch or two. Use a ceiling or standing fan in the summer and save the air conditioner as a last resort. Get a programmable thermostat and set it to adjust the temperature when you’re away from home. You can probably also drop your water heater a degree or two without really noticing it.
You can save as much as 1 percent from your heating bill for each degree you drop the thermostat, if the reduction lasts eight hours per day (while you’re at work or asleep), according to energy.gov. That means a 10- to 15-degree drop in temperature could create significant savings. In addition, make sure you’re not losing excess heat by covering drafts, adding weatherstripping or insulation, and installing heavy thermal curtains.
A few dollars on prevention can save you hundreds –- if not thousands –- on costly cures. Clean the lint trap in your dryer, change the filter in your furnace and dust out those little vents under the fridge. Have your heating ducts and gutters cleaned annually. These tasks can be annoying and time-consuming, but they can save you from some costly repairs or replacements down the road.
As a broad rule of thumb, save 1 percent of your home’s value towards maintenance and repair costs each year. For every $100,000 of home, in other words, set aside $1,000 annually. That may sound like a lot, but once you consider the cost of replacing the carpets and appliances every decade, and the windows, siding and roof every 25 years, you can see how quickly costs add up. And the more you can offset the need to conduct major repairs (e.g. patching that small roof leak before rot and mold develops), the more you can lower your ultimate bills.