The stock market continues to put investors on a roller-coaster ride. As the biggest company in the market, Apple's decline of more than 2% reined in what otherwise might have been an extremely enthusiastic rally, as strong earnings reports from some of the most influential companies in the U.S. set a positive tone. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) closed up 65 points, regaining the 13,000 level to finish at 13,029.
But a few of the Dow's components had huge gains that helped pull up the average. Let's take a closer look at three big winners.
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , up 4.6%
As earnings season continues, Microsoft gave its investors something to smile about last night. The company saw impressive gains from its Windows, business sales, and server units, with substantial revenue gains in each. Although its entertainment division fell short with a 16% drop in revenue, investors bid the shares up after hours last night, and that momentum continued today.
The rise stands in stark contrast to Microsoft's share-price movements over the longer haul, which have been relatively flat compared with some of its competitors. But with Windows 8 due to come out later this year, today's boost may be just the beginning of a product-driven cyclical ramp-up that could propel shares higher.
Travelers (NYSE: TRV ) , up 1.7%
Companies often see nice gains after a favorable earnings report. But even better for bullish shareholders is when a stock gets a second helping of gains.
That's what happened to Travelers today, as Goldman Sachs raised its estimates on the insurance giant following its first-quarter earnings release. A $4 boost in Goldman's target price on the stock to $71 had investors excited, and Travelers remains on Goldman's conviction buy list. In the end, Travelers' loss experience will determine whether it does well or poorly, but confidence from Wall Street analysts can still move share prices in the short run.
Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , up 1.5%
Microsoft shareholders aren't the only ones excited about the software giant's prospects. Verizon could also benefit from Big Softy's future prospects.
Verizon reportedly wants to promote Windows-based smartphones as they become available. That may seem like a no-brainer for any wireless business, but Verizon has a hidden motive: to keep Apple in line. With Verizon and its peers paying big subsidies on iPhone sales, greater competition could put Verizon in a better position to negotiate more favorable terms in the future -- or at least reap better margins from competing products. It'll be interesting to see how the Windows 8 release affects the smartphone industry and the carriers that depend on it.
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