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Financial News You Missed

With stocks now in slightly calmer territory today — the Dow is up more than 100 points — it’s OK take a market break. After all, watching the market’s unprecedented four-day run of more than 400-point moves has been, well, intense. And really hard to look away from. But believe it or not, even during all this upheaval, other stuff kept happening. Here’s some of what you missed:

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Corporate earnings. “We’ve completely forgotten about second quarter earnings season,” says Brian Sozzi, an equity analyst with Wall Street Strategies. Overall, it’s going pretty well: Nearly 70% of S&P 500 firms have beaten earnings-per-share estimates, according to Zacks Equity Research. Of course, earnings season is almost always a parade of not-terribly-surprising upside “surprises.” But when the dust settles from the past week, Sozzi says, “We might go back to second quarter earnings and say, ‘Hey, things weren’t as bad as they could have been.’”

In keeping with this morning’s “not too shabby” retail sales data, retailers like Macy’s (M), Kohl’s (KSS) , and Nordstrom (JWN) have done surprisingly well, Sozzi says. “These companies were able to pass along price increases with success,” he says. It’s not all good news, however. Family Dollar’s (FDO) recent report highlighted again how dependent sales at the low end are on the paycheck cycle, and Office Depot mentioned that sales in California were weak due to state government cutbacks, Sozzi says.

Other economic data. While you’ve been obsessing over the market, Robert Johnson, Morningstar’s associate director of economic analysis, has been sifting through recent data releases, attempting to strip out the effects of the earthquake in Japan, a cold, wet, May, and higher gas prices to get a clearer picture of the health of the consumer economy. “The data is pretty clear that we had a soft spot in the spring, and June and July were months of improvement,” Johnson says. He says second-quarter consumption, GDP, and inflation numbers were seriously distorted by the drop in auto sales and auto production following the earthquake, and as the industry recovers from that disruption, industrial production data set to come out Tuesday should look pretty decent. The four-week downtrend in initial unemployment claims is also an encouraging sign, he says. However, he notes that the unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma has risen year over year based on the most recent data, while unemployment has fallen for groups with more education.

The Fed’s remarks. Sure, we listened to the Fed statement this week, but did we hear the right things? Sozzi says maybe not. “This statement got spun like you wouldn’t believe,” he says. While the market apparently took the Fed’s willingness to provide more stimulus as good news, the tone of the statement isn’t encouraging, he says. “The Fed is saying they’re seeing weakness throughout the economy. They downgraded their growth assumptions,” Sozzi says. Given the depth of the information the Fed has access to, if they’re worried, maybe the rest of us should be worried too, he says.

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