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In a holiday-shortened week, it's important not to put too much weight on the movements in the stock market. On extremely light volume, though, stocks managed to put together a healthy rally today, with the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) rising more than half a percent and the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC ) doing even better, finishing up 8.5 points to close at 1,374.
Positive economic news on factory orders helped push pure industrial stocks higher. Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) both climbed more than 3%, as both rely on factory-related activity for their respective businesses. For Caterpillar, the stakes are high, as the company's stock has given up all of its gains from early 2012 and now trades lower on the year. Yet the declines are based on the assumption that global growth will inevitably slow down. If that proves not to be the case, then Caterpillar could return to its recent highs -- a move that would bring nice profits for buyers at current depressed levels.
Meanwhile, as the Dow component with the smallest market cap, Alcoa has been bouncing along the bottom for months. As useful as more orders would be for the company, the biggest piece of news will come when Alcoa announces its earnings next Monday afternoon. Year-over-year earnings will fall substantially, but if the aluminum maker can beat analyst consensus estimates, it could go a long way toward proving that the stock may have hit bottom.
Among other winners, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) rose 2% to reach another multiyear high. In general, the retail sector was weak, as concerns about less robust sales activity throw a wrench in the profit stories for retailers. But Wal-Mart is poised to profit from other retailers' problems, especially those linked to a slow economy that encourages thrift over big spending. Even if the economic recovery remains sketchy at best, Wal-Mart could keep rising from here.
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