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Dow Flirts Heavily With Highs, Retailers Report Earnings

Hot Stock Minute

After a trading session in which the Dow flirted heavily with its record closing high, finding itself within 15 points of this milestone, Wall Street changed direction and ended lower on Thursday. The blue chip index ended 20 points down for the day, hitting 14,054, but is still within 100 points of its all-time closing high of 14,164, set in October 2007. And all major indices were up for the month as the closing bell rang for February.

The S&P 500 is at 1,514.68, 50 points from its highest close, also notched in October 2007.

Meanwhile, traders throughout the day were digesting earnings reports from a trifecta of department store chains: Sears Holdings (SHLD), Kohl's (KSS) and J.C. Penney (JCP).

Sears (SHLD) did better than expected; the company improved upon sales at its namesake chain for the first time in almost three years. Its Kmart stores told a different story; sales there are still dropping. Overall, the company managed to narrow its losses to $489 million, or $4.61 a share. A year ago those numbers were $2.4 billion, or $22.63 a share. The bulk of the improvement came from cost-cutting. The stock ended the day down more than 5%.

Meanwhile, Kohl’s Corp. reported a smaller decline in profits than expected with earnings per share dropping to $1.66, down from $1.81. Same store sales were up 1.9% but the company says it was forced to offer deep discounts on merchandise to clear out inventory. Kohl's also gave a disappointing outlook for the quarter now underway. Shares ended down about 1% for the day.

Last night's losers

J.C. Penney shares continued a massive plunge that began when the company reported earnings after Wednesday's closing bell. Penney's posted its sharpest drop in sales since embarking on a transformation just over a year ago. Sales plunged 28.4% for an adjusted loss of $1.95 per share; a year earlier the company notched earnings of 21 cents a share. The chain has tried unsuccessfully to wean shoppers off discounts.

There was also a new discount on Groupon (GRPN); shares were down an astounding 25% for the day. The stock plummeted upon the release of a dismal earnings report after the closing bell on Wednesday. Here's why: a net loss of $81 million compared with $65 million a year ago. Plus, the company is warning that sales for the current quarter could be flat. Then, add in shrinking margins and a declining cash flow and you've got a recipe for pain. Shares have now lost more than 75% of their value since Groupon went public in November 2011.

After the bell on Thursday Groupon announced that Andrew Mason is out as CEO; this not-too-surprising move had the stock soaring after hours.

Gap

Gap (GPS), Yahoo! Finance's company of the year for 2012, reported earnings after the closing bell. Its 4Q profit topped analysts’ estimates as it saw its best holiday shopping season in six years. The company also raised its dividend by 20%. Shares rose after hours.

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