US stocks were little changed Tuesday in the last trading day of January, which wound up as the best first month of the year in more than a decade for all three major indexes. Absent from the markets so far this year has been the volatility seen in 2011, when the Dow routinely gained or lost several hundred points in a day, only to finish the year relatively flat. The Nasdaq enjoyed its best January since 1997, gaining 8 percent for the month, while the Dow and S&P 500 had their best January since 1997, gaining 4.4% and 3.4%, respectively.
According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, a growing population of pythons has taken over the Everglades, and seems to be wiping out populations of racoons, bobcats and other medium-sized mammals. The study noted that there has been a dramatic decline in sightings of the mammals over the past few years in areas where pythons are known to be living. Scientists are concerned about the disruptive impact the snakes may have on the delicate Everglades ecosystem.
US home prices fell for a third straight month in December according to the Standard & Poor's / Case-Shiller index of home values in the nation's 20 largest cities. The report indicates that the nation's long-beleaguered housing market has yet to reach a bottom. 19 of the 20 cities tracked in the index showed price declines, and overall prices fell 1.3 percent from October and 3.7 percent from November 2010. Prices typically fall during the winter months as most Americans prefer to shop and move during warmer months, but the fact that prices fell for three straight month indicates that they may continue to fall into 2012.
The overall jobless rate in the 17 country eurozone reached a record-high at the end of 2011, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Eurostat agency. Unemployment across the 17 nations that use the euro as their main currency was 10.4 percent, up from a 10.3 percent jobless rate reported for November. During the year's final month, some 16.5 million people were unemployed, the agency said, up 751,000 from December 2010.
Shares of Radio Shack plummeted nearly 30 percent to a near three-year low Tuesday after the electronics retailer issued a dour outlook for its fourth-quarter earnings the day before. The forecast prompted a number of analysts to downgrade Radio Shack's stock, including Janney Capital Markets, which dropped its rating from “buy” to “neutral.” In a statement, Janney explained that it is presently not clear when the company's declining margins would finally reach a bottom.
Mattel Inc. issued its fourth-quarter results Tuesday, posting better-than-expected earnings while also announcing it was increasing its shareholder dividend. Shares of the company rose more than 5 percent during the first half of Tuesday's trading session as investors welcomed the news. The world's largest toymaker boosted its dividend by 35 percent to 31 cents a share from 23 cents.
Drugmaker Pfizer issued its fourth-quarter results Tuesday, surpassing Wall Street expectations despite earnings slipping by 50 percent because of a series of charges and a decline in US revenue lost to generic competition for its Lipitor cholesterol medication. Just like other pharmaceuticals, Pfizer's results were impacted by the strong US dollar, which reduces the value of its sales in overseas markets. The company also trimmed its forecast for earnings and revenue this year, but managed to outperform estimates with a series of cost-cutting moves.
United Parcel Service issued its fourth-quarter results Tuesday and offered a better-than-expected outlook for 2012. The world's largest package delivery service benefited from solid volume during the holiday season, as its customers shipped some 480 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas, easily its busiest time of the year. For the quarter, the company said, it shipped 1.13 billion packages.
Exxon Mobil Corp. issued its fourth-quarter results Tuesday, posting lower than expected revenue as its production of oil declined on five continents. Shares of the world's largest oil producer slipped a little more than 2 percent on the news. The company said its oil output declined by about 8.8 percent during the quarter to the equivalent of 4.53 million barrels of oil a day, missing by about 200,000 the consensus estimate of analysts in a recent Bloomberg survey.
The Conference Board on Tuesday reported an unexpected drop in consumer confidence this month, signaling economic expansion may slow this quarter after last quarter brought the fastest expansion since 2010's second quarter. The group's index of consumer sentiment fell to 61.1, lower than even the most pessimistic projection among economists who took part in a recent Bloomberg survey. December's reading, meanwhile, was revised to 64.8.