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Markets Fall on Bernanke Comments, FOMC Minutes; Target, Lowe’s and Staples Miss on Earnings

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Markets moved lower today on testimony from Ben Bernanke. The Fed Chairman told a Congressional committee there is no immediate plan to taper massive efforts at quantitative easing. He said it's possible the program will be scaled back in the next few meetings, but that there would need to be an improvement first in key economic data. Adding fuel to the fire, the latest FOMC minutes, released this afternoon, suggest plenty of debate about the topic during the Fed's most recent two-day meeting.

Shares of Target (TGT) fell 4% on the release of the company's quarterly report. The company missed narrowly on revenues, but excluding items it easily beat on earnings posting $1.05 a share when estimates were for 85-cents. Target is blaming a relatively cold spring for the miss. The company says the effect was strong enough that it is now lowering its yearly forecast. By the way, Target has started a push into Canada. It has just opened 24 stores there and plans to open 100 more.

Lowe's (LOW) moved more than 1% higher, despite missing estimates with its quarterly report. The company posted profits of 49-cents a share when consensus was for 51-cents. The home improvement chain also came-in about $300-million shy on revenues. Lowe's like Target is blaming the weather for its woes, saying cool temperatures and lots of rain this spring hurt sales of outdoor items. The company's larger competitor, Home Depot (HD), had a strong beat on earnings estimates yesterday citing the improving housing market. Today shares of Home Depot moved a little more than 1% higher.

Speaking of housing, shares of Toll Brothers (TOL) soared more than 8% for part of the day before closing up almost 3% on their latest earnings release. The company reported earnings of 14-cents a share which was double the consensus. It also reported a rise in orders to the highest level in seven years and a climb in selling prices. Toll had fallen short of expectations last quarter because of rising costs for items like lumber.

Staples (SPLS) rose almost 3% to a 52-week high despite the company's miss on both the top and bottom lines. When excluding items, the office superstore posted profits of 26-cents a share when estimates had been for 27-cents. That was a drop of more than 9%. The company cited a number of reasons for lackluster sales including increased competition from mass merchants and online retailers.

Shares of Saks (SKS) were up as much as 19% for part of the day. That's on top of an 11% jump yesterday. Today's climb came after the New York Post reported that Saks has hired Goldman Sachs (GS) to explore the possibility of selling itself. Meanwhile, yesterday's rise is being pegged to the company's release of its quarterly report. Excluding items, Saks matched expectations for earnings of 19-cents a share with a beat on revenues. The chain says sales for the rest of the year should be up between 4% and 6%. It is in the process of rolling out an e-commerce site for its outlet division, Saks Off Fifth.

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