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Stocks Move Higher as Fed Begins Policy Meeting; Pfizer, Aetna & JetBlue Report

Dan Berman
Hot Stock Minute

Stocks moved higher today as the Fed began a two-day policy meeting. Ben Bernanke and crew are expected to leave the bank's bond-buying program in place. The latest economic data support the idea that the economy is not yet strong enough to begin a taper. The Commerce Department reported this morning that retail sales dipped .1% in September when economists were expecting a rise of .4%. Meanwhile, the Labor Department said the producer price index fell .1% for the month when analysts expected a gain of .6%. There was some good news in the Case Shiller housing report. It found prices for single-family homes rose .9% in the 20 cities monitored.

POLL: How will markets move on Fed policy statement?

Dow component Pfizer (PFE) is among the companies which reported quarterly results this morning. The drug-maker beat on the bottom line, reporting adjusted earnings of 58-cents a share when estimates were for 56-cents. Sales however were a slim miss at $12.64-billion when expectations were for $12.697-billion. The company is also lowering its outlook for the year citing competition from generic drugs. Sales of oncology drugs were a bright spot for the quarter, up 26%.

Health insurer Aetna (AET) also reported earnings. The company was one of just a handful so far to report a miss on earnings, but a beat on revenues. The company posted profits of $1.50 a share, 2-cents below expectations. Sales hit $13.04-billion when estimates were for $12.87-billion. Enrollments climbed 22% from last year to more than 22-million people. Those numbers were helped largely by the company's acquisition of Coventry.

JetBlue (JBLU) matched on sales at $1.44-billion. It missed earnings estimates by a penny with profits of 21-cents a share. However, the number was up 58% from a year ago. Moving forward, JetBlue is ordering more Airbus jets while delaying the purchase of smaller Embraers. The company says it is also re-thinking routes to maximize profits.

Sears (SHLD) shot up almost 12% today. The company revealed this morning that it may spin Lands' End into a different company. It is also considering options for its Sears Auto Center. As of now, Sears says it would not sell Lands' End to another party. Even ahead of today's climb, Sears stock was up 34% so far this year.

Nutrisystem (NTRI) rose more than 20% today on its earnings which came out after yesterday's closing bell. The diet company beat estimates with earnings of 15-cents a share on $85-million in sales. Shares were already up 93% this year. The climb puts the stock at a new multi-year high. Nutrisystem competitor Herbalife (HLF) also reported a beat after yesterday's bell with earnings of $1.41 a share. That stock also drifted higher.

Apple (AAPL) moved fractionally lower despite an earnings beat revealed after yesterday's closing bell. The company made $8.26 a share when estimates were for $7.96. Sales were also above expectations at $37.5-billion compared to $36.93-billion. The company says it shipped 33.8 million iPhones in the quarter which was above estimates, but the figure of 14.1-million iPads was below expectations and a decrease from a year ago. Gross margins fell 3% to 37%.

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