NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It could have been worse. That's pretty much the takeaway from the drubbing the major U.S. equity indices took on Wednesday. The seeds for a serious swoon were certainly present with the realization that QE3 is far from a done deal finally sinking in, and Spain picking up some of Greece's slack in eurozone worry department. Sure, the S&P 500 surrendered 1400 but the selling overall was pretty standard. Not a tremendous amount of volume, and respectable bounce off the lows late in the day. The VIX bears watching, rising 5% to 16.44, but all in all, not much evidence of panic. Birinyi Associates noted earlier in the week that 2011's losers have been 2012's biggest winners, and some of those names took correspondingly big hits on Wednesday. The firm used nine criteria -- such as trailing price-to-earnings multiples and price-to-book ratios -- to evaluate how various investment strategies have performed so far, sorting the components of the S&P 500 according to each one. "During the first three months of 2012 the worst strategy was to own the 50 stocks with the highest dividend yield at the start of 2012," the firm said on Tuesday. "That group of fifty, on average, returned just 3.20%. The best performing strategy was to buy the fifty stocks that performed the worst in 2011. Those fifty names have gained 22.84% so far in 2012." Wednesday saw 2012's top two percentage gainers take sizable haircuts: Bank of America ( BAC) was down 3%, making it the biggest loser in the Dow; and Sears Holdings ( SHLD), which had more than doubled this year, lost 7.4%. Taking profits doesn't explain all of Wednesday's weakness but it's certainly an element, and judging by how much deeper the selling was in Europe, the United State still has some safe-haven appeal. As for Thursday's scheduled news, many of the retailers will be releasing monthly same-store sales numbers. The expectation is for a pretty strong month with Thomson Reuters forecasting an overall year-over-year gain of 3.4% with only the drug stores showing any real weakness. The firm says the Easter holiday landing on April 8 and March's warm weather should be drivers.
"Demand for the latest fashion trends is always strong in the weeks leading up to Easter, a time when retailers are still selling the season's must-have items at full price," wrote analyst Jharonne Martis-Olivo on Tuesday. She continued: "The fact that consumers still appear to be willing to buy the latest fashion items now rather than waiting for a discount later, despite the blow to their wallets from higher gasoline prices, is an encouraging sign for the retail industry. March's weather, significantly warmer than usual throughout much of the United States, boosted pent-up demand for the spring must-have clothing items early in the season, and sent mall traffic higher throughout the month." Martis-Olivo says Zumiez ( ZUMZ), Nordstrom ( JWN), and Limited Brands ( LTD) have the greatest potential for upside surprises, and notes Gap ( GPS) could be a bright spot this time around. "Gap has been a drag on the apparel sector for months but finally seems to be pulling itself out of the doldrums, thanks in part to the launch of a new line of colored jeans (just in time for Easter!), which shoppers have snatched up, as well as the introduction of a range of Diane von Furstenberg designs sold at BabyGap and GapKids stores," she wrote. "Meanwhile, the company's Banana Republic division launched a spring collection inspired by Mad Men, just in time for the television show's much-anticipated return to the airwaves in late March." On the earnings front, Constellation Brands ( STZ) is slated to report its fiscal fourth-quarter results before the opening bell, and the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for a profit of 38 cents a share in the February-ended period on revenue of $626.4 million. Shares of the Victor, N.Y.-based alcoholic beverage company, whose brands include Robert Mondavi wines and Corona beers, have advanced nearly 20% so far in 2012. The stock hit a 52-week high of $24.79 on Tuesday after Goldman Sachs boosted its rating to buy from hold and ramped the price target up to $29 from $22. Last quarter, Constellation Brands missed the consensus view with its third-quarter profit of 50 cents a share on revenue of $700.7 million, below Wall Street expectations for earnings of 52 cents a share on revenue of $720.4 million. The sell side is lukewarm on the company, despite Goldman's upgrade, with seven of the 12 analysts covering the stock at hold (6) or underperform (1), and the median 12-month price target sitting at $25 vs. Wednesday's close at $24.69.
D.A. Davidson previewed Constellation's results on Tuesday, reiterating its buy rating and $30 price target. The firm is a penny above consensus, looking for a profit of 39 cents a share, and it expects sales to increase 3% year-over-year, thanks mainly to rising demand for "super-premium" domestic wines. "The wine category should continue to see steady growth as consumers return to premium priced wines and return to dining on-premise," D.A. Davidson said. "In addition, STZ will benefit from continued strength out of SVEDKA Vodka, the #2 imported U.S. vodka." Check out TheStreet's quote page for Constellation Brands for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more. Other companies slated to report on Thursday include Carmax ( KMX), Pier 1 Imports ( PIR), Pinnacle Airlines ( PNCL), Schnitzer Steel ( SCHN), SemiLEDS Corp. ( LEDS), and WD-40 ( WDFC). The build-up to Friday's big March jobs report continues on Thursday with weekly initial and continuing jobless claims due at 8:30 a.m. ET; and the Challenger, Gray & Christmas monthly report on layoffs at 7:30 a.m. ET. The consensus estimate, according to Briefing.com, is calling for initial claims to come in at 355,000, down slightly from 359,000 the week before. Breaking through 350,000 is starting to become a bit of an issue. With previous reports being revised higher of late, the four-week moving average has been bumped back above 360,000 after bottoming out at 354,750 in late February. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.