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The Dow Gets a Booster Shot From Big Pharma

After briefly shedding all its gains earlier today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is firmly back in the green in the afternoon session. As of 2:15 p.m. EST, the index has seized gains of 45 points, or 0.33%. With most stocks on the index rising, it's been a good day for investors, regardless of sector -- though shareholders of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) won't be happy with today's results.

The downgrade blues
Microsoft hit a snag earlier when Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS  ) downgraded the stock from "overweight" to "equal-weight." With Windows 8's launch already tepid at best and the Surface tablet doing little to make electronics consumers forget about the iPad, the demotion by Morgan Stanley is just the latest in a series of blows to Microsoft. The company did say that Windows 8 sales have roughly matched those of Windows 7, but Wall Street certainly hasn't been impressed yet. Microsoft shares have fallen almost 1.5% to lead today's Dow laggards, and they've dropped nearly 8% over the past three months.

It's a much better day for Big Pharma on the Dow. Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) and Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) have both risen to the top of the charts, picking up 0.8% and 1.1%, respectively. Pfizer recently received expanded European Commission approval for its Prevnar 13 pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for older children and adolescents. With analysts expecting the vaccine to hit about $6.75 billion in sales by 2013, the approval is something for Pfizer shareholders to celebrate.

Merck, on the other hand, has quietly danced around the possibility of acquiring up-for-sale private eye-care company Bausch & Lomb. Merck has kept all its diversified health-care businesses together in a time when companies like Pfizer are all too happy to spin off divisions such as nutrition and animal health. While Bausch & Lomb could come with a hefty price tag, it would add some significant power to Merck's consumer health sales.

While several tech stocks are also having a good day -- Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) have each gained more than 1% -- it's last year's powerhouse, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) that has surged to the top of the charts today. Warren Buffet gave the financial sector a slap on the back today, saying that banks are in the best shape in recent memory. With that kind of endorsement, it's hard not to believe in Bank of America -- especially after the company's strengthening of its financial positions and shedding of nonessential operations sent the stock to gains of about 100% last year.

B of A has certainly taken off recently, but is it too late to get in on the Dow's best stock of 2012, or is there more gains to come? To learn more about the most talked-about bank out there, check out our in-depth company report on Bank of America. The report details Bank of America's prospects, including three reasons to buy and three reasons to sell. Just click here to get access.

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