Much of the day’s mood was determined by quarterly earnings reports released after market close yesterday, with IBM and Microsoft boosting the Dow and Google weighing down the Nasdaq after missing analysts’ estimates on both revenue and net income. Its stock fell 8%. Also today, the housing market looked a bit brighter after a good month of existing home sales in December.
The Dow gained 96 points, with 17 of its 30 components higher; the S&P 500 rose less than a point; and the Nasdaq was off by 1. Advancers led decliners by just over four to three on the NYSE and three to two on the Nasdaq. The prices of Treasuries weakened, with the yield on the 10-year rising above 2%. Gold futures rose $9.50 to close at $1,664 an ounce, and the price of crude oil fell $1.93 to settle at $98.46 a barrel, due partly to a disappointing manufacturing report out of China.
For the week, the Dow gained 2.4%, the S&P was up 2%, and the Nasdaq rose 2.8%.
In Earnings News:
- General Electric’s fourth-quarter operating earnings rose, but its net earnings and revenue fell. Excluding the sale of NBC Universal in the fourth quarter of 2010, the industrial giant reported operating earnings rose 6% to $4.1 billion, or 39 cents a share (net earnings were down 18% to $3.7 billion, with the drop largely attributable to comparisons with the sale of NBC Universal in the year-ago period). Revenue was $38 billion, down 8%, reflecting the lost revenue from NBC. Its shares (GE) were flat on the day.
- International Business Machine Corp.’s fourth-quarter profit rose 4.4% to $5.49 billion, or $4.62 a share. Revenue was $29.5 billion, up 1.6%. The company also boosted full-year guidance for 2012 to above analysts’ estimates on what it expects will be strong sales in software and services. Its shares (IBM) gained 4%.
- Google Inc. missed analysts’ expectations for both fourth-quarter revenue and earnings, leading its shares (GOOG) to drop 8% for the day. The online search and advertising company reported fourth-quarter profit of $2.71 billion, or $8.22 a share, up from $2.54 billion, or $7.81 a share, in the year-ago quarter. The company’s operating expenses jumped 35%, and it hired 1,114 employees during the quarter as it seeks to put more resources behind fewer core products, such as its Android phones and its Google+ social network.
- Microsoft Corp.’s fiscal second-quarter revenue rose to $20.9 billion, up 5% from the prior year, while its profit fell modestly to $6.62 billion, or 78 cents a share, from $6.63 billion a year ago. Falling PC sales due to competition from smartphones and tablets was countered by sales of its Xbox and cloud-related online services. Its shares (MSFT) gained 5%.
In Other Business News:
- Sales of existing homes in the U.S. rose 5% in December, according to the National Association of Realtors. The annualized pace of 4.61 million home sales fell slightly below estimates, but it was enough to reduce the outstanding inventory of homes to 2005 levels. However, the unknown is how many foreclosures are still waiting to enter the market.
A few years ago, my job duties took me traveling across the country, where I learned what happens to the human body when it’s forced to eat airline and hotel food on a regular basis. I also learned about these rare and wonderful beasts called “expense reports.” My previous job was in academia, where, if I had asked anyone about how to file an expense report, they would have replied, “It’s called your bank account. Deal with it.” So the ability to travel the country and basically charge everything to the corporate card liberated me (and my bank account).
But I always felt guilty whenever I spent money while traveling for work. Even grabbing a cup of coffee would make me nervous. “Wouldn’t that count as almost a fourth meal?” I’d worry. Or, since I’d likely already had four meals between the plane and the airport and the hotel, “Wouldn’t that count as a fifth meal? And really, shouldn’t my expense report be the least of my worries at this point?”
It turns out not everyone is as paranoid about allowable expenses as I was. Chad Brooks, reporting for Business News Daily, writes about a new survey of 1,600 chief operating officers by Robert Half Management Resources. The COOs were asked about questionable expense report items that ran across their desks, and the results are either a testament to human optimism (“Sure, they’ll let this one fly!”) or first-class mental density. I can’t fathom how some employees justified these expenses in their minds.
According to Brooks, the survey revealed these expense report doozies: a $12,000 family vacation; a trailer rental for a family reunion; cosmetic surgery; and, my personal favorite, the “fine for crashing into a tollbooth.” Because sometimes performing company business means a few tollbooths must be taken out along the way.
And then there are the “personal expenditures” that employees typically rack up when traveling. Granted, these expenses form the nebulous outer ring of allowable items, but some clearly fall out of bounds. Socks, for instance, which is an item cited by the COOs, or “flowers for a spouse,” or cigarettes (unless for some strange reason your company forces you to smoke, in which case go ahead and claim it, and claim a lawyer while you’re at it). It goes without saying that you should never, ever submit an expense report for hot tub supplies or golf clubs, two other items mentioned in the survey, unless you have a clear business need for them that’s approved well in advance. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s famous saying, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission,” doesn’t apply to expense reports. It’s more like, “You’re not getting permission for the golf clubs, and you’re sure not getting forgiveness, either. Particularly not with that seven you shot on the fourth hole.”
Any questionable expenses you’ve heard of? Feel free to share them on today’s online version. And check out this week's On the Trading DeskSM for part three of a video series featuring our capital market strategist team of Dr. Brian Jacobsen, Jim Kochan, and John Manley who discuss their outlook for 2012.