After a strong start to the week the stock market today is down on fears of a worldwide economic slowdown. Investors are dealing with weak reports from China and more signs that the drought's effect on U.S. crops is not over.
China, the world's second largest economy, has been a leader of global growth, but is showing more and more signs that its economy is slowing.
China reported its exports grew just 1% from last July, well below forecasts and much lower than the 11.3% increase in June. Import growth stalled as well, up only 4.7% compared to a year earlier, well below the June growth of 6.3%.
At home, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture released a report today projecting an enormous drop in corn production and an ensuing spike in prices.
In its monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand report, the USDA projected the corn harvest would fall by 2.2 billion bushels, or 22.6 bushels per acre, resulting in a harvest of 123.4 bushels per acre.
Analysts had anticipated a decline of 20 bushels per acre and a harvest of 126 bushels per acre.
The 2012-2013 crop yield is now expected to be the worst since the 1995-1996 season and prices are soaring.
The USDA said it now expects farm prices for corn to reach a record high this season of $7.50 to $8.90 per bushel, sharply higher than its July forecast of $5.40 to $6.40 per bushel.
The food crisis is affecting consumers across the world as the United Nations released a report on Thursday indicating that world food prices rose 6% in July.
Headlines in the Stock Market Today
J.C. Penney Company Inc. (NYSE: JCP) reported steeper than expected losses for its second quarter before the opening bell but its stock is rising after comments from CEO Ron Johnson.
Johnson, the former marketing chief at Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) was able to distract investors from the dismal earnings report.
J.C. Penney reported a net loss of $147 million, or 67 cents per share, for the second quarter ended July 28, compared with a profit of $14 million, or 7 cents per share, a year before.
Excluding certain items, Penney lost 50 cents per share, while analysts had expected a loss of 25 cents a share.
The company also removed its full year outlook which it no longer expects to achieve.
Investors were calmed by Johnson "vowing to stay the course" in terms of Penny's transformation to set it apart from rivals.
But not all are on board with Johnson and his turnaround efforts.
"I am very skeptical as to whether he understands that the J.C. Penney customer is looking for value and perceives value only with couponing," Walter Loeb, president of Loeb Associates, management consultants to the retail industry, told Reuters. "As long as Macy's keeps banging away, I don't think he has a ghost of chance."
JCP stock was up more than 3.5% as of noon after being up as much as 7% earlier.
Manchester United Plc (NYSE: MANU) debuted today on the NYSE with an IPO price of $14. The 134-year old soccer club and the Glazer family, which controls 99% of voting control, sold 16.6 million shares and raised $233 million in proceeds from the IPO.
The IPO price was lowered from its initial marketed range of $16 to $20 a share.
The company "was asking investors to pay a pretty high price and take on a lot of risk," Kenneth Perkins, a Morningstar analyst who covers consumer companies, told Bloomberg News. "It could work out, but the risk is to the downside."
Perkins values the stock at $10.
Half the shares are being sold by the club and the Glazers, who also own the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are selling the rest. The $14 price gives Manchester United a market cap around $2.3 billion.
Morningstar analysts noted in a report that "despite the team's iconic brand and loyal fans, the unpredictable nature of sports will likely challenge Manchester United's ability to provide consistent profits to investors."
MANU stock did not have any IPO pop this morning, only reaching $14.05 and is currently hovering around its IPO price of $14.
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