U.S. equities are fragile, Feb. 18-22

The S&P 500’s seven-week winning streak ground to a halt with the benchmark index falling 0.1% to 1,515.60.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.1% higher to finish at 14,000.57 and The Philadelphia Gold and Silver index lost 5.27% to 136.31.

Despite posting a net profit in the fourth quarter of $354 million ($2.34 per share) compared with $193 million ($1.20 per share) in the year-earlier quarter and sales that were up 3% to $3.26 billion, shares of Agrium dropped US$5.78 to US$101.13. The fertilizer giant is facing a proxy contest with Jana Partners, its biggest shareholder, which wants to separate Agrium’s farm retail and wholesale fertilizer production.

Shares of BHP Billiton were down US$4.72 to US$64.44 per share after it reported a 43% drop in profit to US$5.68 billion for the first six months of the year (the worst drop in profit in more than a decade) and took US$3 billion in write-downs on its aluminum and nickel assets. The global miner also became the latest company to replace its chief executive officer. Outgoing CEO Marius Kloppers is being replaced by Andrew Mackenzie, currently BHP’s head of non-ferrous business. Before joining the mining industry Mackenzie worked in oil and gas at BP for twenty-two years. 

A US$71 million (US$1.13 per share) net loss in the fourth quarter, compared with a year-earlier profit of US$80.3 million (US$1.29 per share), sent shares of metallurgical and thermal coal miner Walter Energy tumbling US$4.67 to US$33.25. Ailing prices for metallurgical coal and weak demand from China, torpedoed the company’s revenues, which fell to US$478.8 million from US$703.0 million in the year-earlier quarter. Walter Energy is also facing a proxy challenge from hedge fund Audley Capital Advisors.

Lower metal production and higher costs ate into the fourth-quarter profits of Newmont Mining. Earnings for the three months ended Dec. 31, 2012 reached US$552 million (US$1.11 per share), compared with earnings of US$577 million (US$1.17 per share) in the fourth quarter of 2011. Net income was US$673 million, compared with a loss of US$1.02 billion in the year-ago quarter. The stock closed US$2.45 per share lower at US$40.82.

Nevsun Resources rose US$0.05 to US$3.84 per share after announcing that it will expand its exploration plans this year at its Bisha project in Eritrea. Nevsun will spend $9 million on 18,400 metres of drilling, data evaluation and resource estimation. It expects to complete a resource estimate in the third quarter on its Northwest Zone, about 1.2 km northwest of the Bisha mine.


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