Personal Finance

What Happened in the Stock Market Today

Image source: Getty Images.

Stocks ticked lower on Wednesday, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI) and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC) indexes falling by less than 0.3%.

Today's stock market:

Index Percentage Change Point Change
Dow (0.29%) (54.92)
S&P 500 (0.16%) (3.45)

Data source: Yahoo Finance.

Here's a look at a few stocks and exchange-traded funds that stood out with unusually large price moves.

Financial stocks were some of the market's biggest losers as big banks gave back some of the huge gains they have piled up over the last few trading days. That decline pushed the Financial Sector Select SPDR Fund (NYSEMKT: XLF) lower by 1%. Meanwhile, a small uptick in the price of gold wasn't enough to keep the volatile VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEMKT: GDX) from posting a 1% drop.

Meanwhile, Target (NYSE: TGT) and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW) stocks posted significant moves in opposite directions as investors digested the retailers' latest operating trends and updated 2016 outlooks.

Target's merry Christmas

Target shares advanced by as much as 9% before settling to a 7% increase for the day. The rally followed better-than-expected quarterly earnings results and an upgrade by management on the company's critical holiday season sales-growth outlook.

Image source: Target.

Target managed a few key wins this quarter that suggest better days for the business ahead. Comps were flat, marking an improvement over the prior quarter's 1% decline, and beating management's forecast. The retailer saw strength in its signature categories like clothing and home goods, where it faces less competition than in segments like groceries and consumer electronics.

Earnings spiked higher by 11% as gross profit margin ticked up and as the company sliced $300 million out of its expenses. "We are very pleased with our third-quarter financial results," CEO Brian Cornell said in a press release, "which reflect meaningful improvement in our traffic and sales trends and much stronger-than-expected profitability."

Executives are optimistic about their inventory position heading into the biggest quarter of the year. The latest shopper traffic trends also gave them confidence to raise their fourth-quarter outlook. Rather than a 1% comps decline, Target is now projecting flat comps. The favorable margin trends that lifted this quarter's numbers should continue to boost earnings results, too, so Target increased its full-year profit outlook to $4.77 per share from the $4.51 per share it last projected.

Lowe's market share stumbles

Lowe's stock slipped after the home-improvement retailer posted surprisingly weak quarterly earnings results. Revenue rose 10% overall, but mainly because of its growing store base rather than customer traffic gains at existing locations. In fact, comparable-store sales ticked up by just 2.7%, while rival Home Depot 's comps jumped 5.9% .

Image source: Lowe's.

Executives suggested that Lowe's sluggish sales pace improved toward the end of the quarter. "Our third-quarter operating results were below our expectations due to slower sales in the first two months of the quarter," CEO Robert Niblock said in a press release. "Traffic slowed more than we anticipated in August and September before improving in October," he explained.

Home Depot, in contrast, posted strong comps in each of the last three months. It also extended its profitability lead on Lowe's, with operating margin rising to 14.5% from 13.7%.

Lowe's comparable figure ticked down to 8.3% from 9% in the year-ago period. The company is responding by looking for areas to cut costs and increase productivity, but earnings growth will still come in lower than expected. Lowe's lowered its 2016 profit forecast slightly, even as Home Depot, for the third-straight time this year, raised its full-year earnings forecast.

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Demitrios Kalogeropoulos owns shares of Home Depot. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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