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The retailer is set to announce its quarter Thursday morning. Can it overcome a long slide in US sales?

By Benzinga Wed 3:33 PM
Credit: © Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Caption: Grocery items sit inside a cart at a Wal-Mart store in Alexandria, Va.By Jayson Derrick, Benzinga

Investors will be keeping a close eye on Wal-Mart's (WMT) quarterly earnings Thursday morning, searching for signs of the company's progress in a shaky economic recovery.

Life hasn't been easy for the nation's largest retailer this year. Same-store sales at U.S. locations have slid for five straight quarters, leading analysts at UBS (UBS) in June to remove Wal-Mart from their "Most Preferred List." On July 29, analysts at Goldman Sachs (GS) downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "buy."


Government data showed in June that food stamp usage has fallen from its 2012 peak. It is unclear how this data set will play out for Wal-Mart in the coming quarters, considering the chain has captured an estimated 18 percent of the SNAP (food stamps program) market.


Also adding to Wal-Mart's woes during the quarter is the fact that its former U.S. president, Bill Simon, said that the country's hiring rebound is not translating to a rise in customer spending at its stores. Simon added that the economy is "not getting any better or worse" for its core customers.

 

It's not a laundry or dry-cleaning gadget. Instead, the $500 device is meant to delay laundering or dry cleaning.

By MSN Money Partner Wed 2:29 PM
Credit: Courtesy of Swash via Facebook, www.facebook.com/SwashOfficial

Caption: SWASH™, the in-home 10‑minute clothing care systemBy Elizabeth Holmes, The Wall Street Journal

Procter & Gamble (PG) is betting shoppers will spend nearly $500 and find a spot in their homes for a machine more than 4 feet tall, all in the name of avoiding laundering or dry cleaning their favorite blouses and slacks.

Swash is a new release from the consumer-products giant, maker of Tide and Febreze, in partnership with Whirlpool (WHR). The tall and thin device, which is large enough to hold one men's extra-large suit jacket, uses gel-filled pods to help neutralize odors, remove wrinkles and restore a garment's fit.


It isn't meant to replace laundering or dry cleaning, the companies say, just delay them. That convenience comes with a hefty price tag: $499 for the machine, plus $6.99 for a 12-pack of pods, each good for one use only. The machine is sold at Bloomingdale's and will be available next month at other retailers.

 
Tags: PG

The signals are there, but investors don't yet seem ready for a dose of reality.

By MSN Money Partner Wed 2:08 PM
Caption: New York, Wall Street, bronze statue of charging bull
Credit: © xPACIFICA/Getty ImagesBy Michael Sincere, MarketWatch

All bull markets end eventually, either with a whimper or a bang, although no one can say when. 


The good news is that if you are observant, a number of clues announce the end is near.


One of the reasons I've become cautious about this five-year bull market is I'm seeing warning signals, including the following four:


1. Rallies fizzle quickly

Many investors got excited when the market rallied 185 points last Friday. But if you looked deeper, you'd understand the spike wasn't as strong as it seemed.

 
Tags: VIX

Some market watchers believe the softness could be signaling something more sinister.

By MSN Money Partner Wed 12:57 PM
Credit: © Matthew Brown/AP Photo
Caption: a pump jack pulls crude oil from the Bakken region of the Northern Plains near Bainville, Mont.By Matt Clinch, CNBC

The price of Brent crude slipped to a 13-month low on Wednesday, pushed lower by reports of oversupply in the markets. 


However, some market watchers believe that this softness could be signaling something more sinister in the global economy, with a risk that the weakness could spread to other assets.


"At the end of the day it's all about demand," Michael Hewson, the chief market analyst at brokerage firm CMC Markets told CNBC via telephone. The oil price is simply a leading indicator for demand across the globe, according to Hewson, who predicts the price has more downside risk than upside, barring any unexpected geopolitical event.


He agrees that current global growth forecasts may be too optimistic and depressed demand in Europe and China, along with the anticipated normalization of interest rates in the U.S. and the U.K., could be about to bring investors back down to earth.

 

The networking company surprised Wall Street with stellar numbers in its last earnings report. Investors will be watching for more of the same Wednesday.

By MSN Money Partner Wed 12:29 PM
The Cisco logo is seen at the NCTA Cable Show in Washington, DC, on June 11, 2013 (© Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)By Benjamin Pimentel, MarketWatch

Cisco Systems (CSCO) will report fiscal fourth-quarter results after the market closes on Wednesday, after surprising Wall Street in May with an upbeat results and outlook.

Investors will look for signs that would confirm Cisco's strong performance the previous quarter is a sign that the tech powerhouse is on the comeback trail.


Here's what investors can expect:


Earnings

Cisco is expected to post profit of 53 cents a share, compared with a profit of a 52 cents a share for the year-earlier period, according to a survey of analysts conducted by FactSet.

 
Tags: CSCO

King Digital's second-quarter revenue came in below expectations, but things appear even worse for the game company beyond the headline number.

By TheStreet.com Staff Wed 12:25 PM

King Digital Media's initial public offering at the New York Stock Exchange, March 26, 2014 © Justin Lane/EPABy Antoine Gara, TheStreet


King Digital Entertainment’s (KING) revenue and bookings dropped in the second quarter and the company sharply cut its full-year guidance amid falling activity for its popular Candy Crush Saga game. Behind King Digital’s earnings miss, which caused shares to tumble to post-IPO lows in premarket trading on Wednesday, things appear even worse for the company.


King Digital's monetization of its suite of free mobile and online games appears to have plateaued, with only a limited number of users willing to pay for its games. Since the company generates the bulk of its revenue from a small number of paying users -- called monthly unique paying users, or MUPs -- monetization trends are crucial to the company’s earnings.

 

Is the critical documentary 'Blackfish' to blame for falling sales?

By MSN Money Partner Wed 12:17 PM
 Believe show in Shamu Stadium at the SeaWorld Orlando theme park in Orlando, Fla.By CNBC.com staff

Shares in SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) plunged Wednesday after the theme park operator reported lower revenue and slashed its sales outlook for the year.


SeaWorld shares closed down nearly 33 percent Wednesday to $18.90.


SeaWorld said attendance for the quarter rose 0.3 percent, but revenue fell slightly. Adjusted earnings also dipped slightly.


The company said it now expects 2014 revenue to fall 6 to 7 percent. Its previous guidance had assumed a slight increase in revenue, according to a Dow Jones report.

 
Tags: SEAS

Stocks have bounced all over the place this month. Investors should take a conservative approach and focus on specific areas of underperformance.

By InvestorPlace Wed 12:00 PM

Credit: © Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Caption: A trader points to a stock chart on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly before the closing bell in New York July 2, 2014By Anthony Mirhaydari


Stocks have stabilized over the last few days as fears over a sooner-than-expected interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve have faded -- thanks to a slowdown in the economic dataflow. The focus has instead turned back to the simmering geopolitical hotspots in Iraq and Ukraine.


The buyers came back in, though, thanks to an apparent de-escalation by Moscow on Friday, as it ended a military drill on the Ukrainian border. On Tuesday, the sellers are out in force once more, reversing Monday's gains in a broad market selloff. Then stocks took a turn up on Wednesday.


The market has been bouncing up and down all month. The question is: What's next?

 
Tags: COPHYG

The Russian president's ban on US chicken imports is resulting in a feast of lower grocery bills for American shoppers.

By Jim Cramer Wed 11:02 AM

Russia's President Vladimir Putin © Metzel Mikhail/ITAR-TASS/CorbisGrrr! Why does all news have to be presented so negatively? Last week, Vladimir Putin may have done the most positive thing he could for American consumers' wallets: He banned U.S. chicken imports. Immediately, the outpourings were negative. The Washington Post pointed out that the ban is "also starting to negatively affect a number of U.S. food industries," particularly chicken. We send $300 million in chickens to Russia every year. The chicken industry? Is that the real ramification for something that is eaten by tens of millions of people in this country? The pain in the chicken farmer's budget?


This Putin-hurts-chicken-farmers story is a classic example of how a huge positive gets turned by the press into something dastardly. Do you know that ever since Putin put this through, the price of all of our foodstuffs have been in virtual freefall? Do you know that hog futures, which had been soaring not that long ago, are now tumbling the maximum amount allowed and are back to where they were on March 18? Do you know that the stubbornly high price of cattle is now crashing as a new Putin-inspired chicken glut has made poultry too competitive? Two weeks ago, we thought cattle could only go up in price. No more.

 

You may have not heard of 'secular stagnation,' but regulators and other economists are growing increasingly worried about it.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 12, 2014 4:05PM
Credit: © Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Caption: A financial professional looks at his computer screen on the floor of the New York Stock ExchangeBy Alex Rosenberg, CNBC

Is there something seriously wrong with the economy?


It's a scary prospect, and a concern that's gotten louder and louder over the past year. In economic circles, it goes by the alliterative name of "secular stagnation." And it's a phrase that Fed watchers are likely to hear more and more in the months ahead.


Recent comments by the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, Stanley Fischer, indicate questions within the central bank about whether the slow growth that has followed the recent recession could reflect, or at least could potentially morph into, longer-term issues within the economy. 

 

A Chinese company unknown to most Americans, incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and listing on US markets? Uh oh.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 12, 2014 3:32PM
Caption: The logo of Alibaba Group in China
Credit: © Ju Huanzong/Rez FeaturesBy Telis Demos and Matt Jarzemsky, The Wall Street Journal

As Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. heads toward what could be the biggest-ever initial public offering, its bankers are homing in on one of their biggest challenges: keeping the shares aloft once they start trading.


While all big IPOs are tough to pull off, the e-commerce company faces some unique hurdles.


For a start, the deal is likely to total more than $20 billion, according to people with knowledge of it. Bankers figure they will need to drum up orders for as much as four times the size of the deal from big institutional investors to create enough fervor to keep the shares rising in the days after it goes public, the people said. That will require seeking some buyers willing to pony up $1 billion or more for a slice of the deal to ensure demand.


"This is the stuff that keeps me up at night," said one person involved in the sales process.

 

A report from Fitch Ratings says the company could lose as much as a quarter of its smartphone market share in the next year.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 12, 2014 3:20PM
Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Phil Schiller speaks about the new iPhone 5C on September 10, 2013 in Cupertino, Calif. (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)By Jennifer Booton, MarketWatch

Apple (AAPL) could lose a quarter of its smartphone market share by next year amid intensifying competition from emerging markets, Fitch Ratings warned in a report Tuesday.


The ratings firm said South Korea's Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) could lose as much as 14 percent of its smartphone market share for the same reason.


Apple and Samsung's smartphone shipment volume is expected to stagnate around 450 million to 460 million units this year despite a forecasted industrywide increase of about 20 percent to 1.2 billion units, Fitch said.


This comes as handset makers in emerging markets like China and India produce less-advanced devices that are far cheaper than those offered by industry heavyweights. Fitch says the more basic devices retail anywhere from $100 to $300, as opposed to new iPhone and Galaxy devices that run closer to $600 without subsidies.

 
Tags: AAPL

Forget facts. It's all the rage to be a doom-monger.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 12, 2014 2:59PM
Image: Stock market © Digital Vision/SuperStockBy Jeff Reeves, MarketWatch

Anyone who follows the stock market today knows we are doomed.


Sure, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) is up 180 percent from the March 2009 lows. And, yes, unemployment is the lowest since late 2008.


But those statistics matter only if you're looking at the facts and worried about being "objective." I mean, who's interested in what economists, government agencies and famous investors think, anyway?


What's much more compelling is when you see the latest headlines on cable news, then extrapolate a narrative based on your own observations of fear, greed and corruption. That's what we seem to have today.


As a result, I am not interested taking the word of a trendy non-profit at face value. Nor am I interested in what would have happened to a lazy buy-and-hold strategy over the past few decades.

 

The chain is set to unveil a concept store that offers artisanal bites. 'The next big thing in indulgence is small,' says an executive.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 12, 2014 2:39PM
Credit: Courtesy of Cinnabon
Caption: What to expect at the Bon Bake Shop by CinnabonBy Diane Brady, Businessweek

Imagine a Cinnabon smothered with cream cheese icing, set amid rows of clones in a flashy food court. Now shrink it to one-tenth the size and switch to Oreo frosting or a Caramel Macchiato spread. 


Then go to the opposite end of the mall, and serve it like an artisanal bon bon in a stand-alone shop that looks nothing like its fast-food parent.


Welcome to Bon Bake Shop by Cinnabon, a new chain that the cinnamon roll giant will test in mid-September at Houston's Willowbrook Mall. It's the latest move by a brand that has put its name on vodka, Cream of Wheat, and frosting-filled dessert balls at Taco Bell (YUM). 

 
Tags: SBUXYUM

The rare event is a black eye for the bankers behind Vascular Biogenics' debut. 'We've never seen anything like this happen before,' one market watcher says.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 12, 2014 2:21PM
Credit: © Spain, S.L./age footstock/Alamy

Caption: A centrifuge in a biopharmaceutical labBy Telis Demos, Scott Patterson and Chris Dieterich, The Wall Street Journal

It was the IPO that wasn't: A biotech firm hit the market and traded for six days, only to announce Friday that it wasn't issuing shares after all, thanks to a key investor's failure to follow through on a commitment to buy stock.

That meant all the investors who thought they had bought or sold shares in Vascular Biogenics Ltd. since it began trading hadn't.

The highly unusual cancellation of a deal days after the shares began trading is a black eye for lead underwriters Deutsche Bank AG (DB) and Wells Fargo (WFC) and an unwanted headache for any buyer or seller of the stock. It also is a major setback for the money-losing biotechnology company, which had planned to use the proceeds of the $65 million offering to fund drug development.

 
Tags: DBGSWFC

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Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.

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[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market continued its strong start to the week with a broad-based Tuesday rally that sent the S&P 500 higher by 0.5%. Nine of ten sectors registered gains while the benchmark index extended its week-to-date advance to 1.4%.

Equities received an opening boost from a pair of economic data points that crossed the wires this morning. An in-line CPI report suggested inflationary pressures remain contained, while a better than expected Housing Starts report ... More


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