The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights:Energy Select Sector SPDR, Emerge Energy Services LP, Vipshop Holdings, Pioneer Energy Services and Michael Kors Holdings

Benchmarks have tackled macroeconomic concerns from the other side of the pool to snatch significant gains for the first half of 2014. On the domestic front, benchmarks overcame headwinds including harsh winter weather, drop in first-quarter GDP and decline in Treasury yields to close in the green.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI), S&P 500 (INX) and NASDAQ Composite (IXIC) boast gains of 1.5%, 6.1% and 5.5%, respectively, for the first half of 2014. The S&P 500 has hit record highs on 22 occasions so far this year. Also, it has the best lead over the Dow since 2009 and the seventh best lead since 1929.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq registered their sixth-straight quarter of gains. Separately, the S&P 500 marked its biggest second-quarter gain since 2009. The blue-chip index too recorded gains in five out of the last six quarters.

January – Following a robust Bull Run in 2013, benchmarks began 2014 on a sour note. The beginning of 2014 witnessed three consecutive days of losses that led the S&P 500 to its worst start to a year since 2005. The blue-chip index plunged 5.3%, S&P 500 was down 3.6% and Nasdaq ended the month with 1.7% decline. This was the blue-chip index’s worst start since 2009.

April – The Dow and S&P gained 0.8% and 0.6%, respectively, for the month. The tech-heavy Nasdaq slipped 0.2%.

May – The S&P 500, the Dow and the Nasdaq gained 2.1%, 0.8% and 3.1%, respectively. May’s gains helped the Nasdaq and the blue-chip index turn positive for the year.

June – The S&P 500 registered its fifth successive month of gains. The index gained 1.9% over the month. The Dow and the Nasdaq also gained 0.7% and 3.9%, respectively, over the month.

Political clashes were the major global headlines during this period, while Chinese economic data also guided our benchmarks. Separately, ECB’s monetary stimulus actions kept the markets moving. On the home front, Fed’s decision and hints regarding the low interest rate environment and trimming of the bond buyback plan were major movers. Economic data was mostly mixed, but the GDP numbers were largely on the negative side.

Yellen also provided an impetus to the markets with the comment that the central bank will consider a “wide range of indicators” on the labor market for decisions on rate hikes. She also said: “Economic activity is rebounding in the current quarter and will continue to expand at a moderate pace thereafter.”

Announcement of stimulus measures by the ECB were welcomed by investors. Benchmarks notched record highs early in June after ECB reduced its key interest rates. The refinancing rate was lowered to 0.15% from 0.25% and the marginal lending facility rate was reduced to 0.40% from 0.75%. ECB also cut the deposit rates to -0.10%; thereby becoming the first central bank to have a negative rate.

Additionally, ECB deployed a series of targeted long term refinancing operations in an effort to boost bank lending to the non-financial private sector in the Eurozone.

A surprise weaker-than-expected US jobs report left investors worried about betting big on equities in January. It was reported in January that nonfarm payroll employment moved up 74,000 in December. This was significantly below the consensus estimate of a gain of 192,000.

However, the nonfarm payroll data has been positive thereafter; suggesting improving labor conditions this year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, total nonfarm payroll employment had risen to 113,000 in January. This was short of the consensus estimate of a jump to 189,000. However, unemployment rate had fallen to 6.6%, a five-year low. The lower-than-expected job additions did not affect markets much as investors focused on the drop in unemployment rate.

The third and final data for real gross domestic product (“GDP”) shows that the U.S. economy is faltering. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported GDP shrunk 2.9% in the first quarter of 2014 contrary to the second estimate of 1% decline and the first estimate of 0.1% increase. This is the worst performance since five years. In the fourth quarter of 2013, real GDP had advanced 2.6%.

Here are the top 3 stocks of the first half of 2014. These stocks have gained the most during this period and also boast Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

Therefore, to capitalize on its ever-increasing popularity, especiallyoverseas, Michael Kors has taken up store expansion in a big way. To further increase its brand visibility, the company has been collaborating with leading department/specialty retail stores in order to convert department store doors to shop-in-shops. These initiatives will continue to boost its revenues and margins, going forward.

This was well reflected in the company’s stellar fourth-quarter fiscal 2014 results, following which estimates have been northbound. Moreover, this luxury retailer has delivered positive earnings surprises in the trailing four quarters with an average beat of 18.2%. The long-term expected earnings growth rate for this stock is 25.4%.

Moreover, comparable store sales (comps) increased 26.2%, marking the 32nd straight quarter of comps growth.

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