Falling Trade Deficit Powers Up the Dow

Stocks are climbing to the end of the week, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is back in the green. As of 2:15 p.m. EST, the Dow has picked up 45 points, or 0.3%, after briefly hitting yet another 52-week high earlier in the day. Most stocks on the index are in the green, and with few notable losers, it looks like markets are treating investors to a happy start to the weekend.

Trade deficit down
Positive news rolled in long before the Dow opened this morning. Chinese exports and imports both picked up faster than expected, and with U.S. trade data showing that the American trade deficit fell to a two-year low, signs point to a strengthening of both top economies.

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) is capitalizing on today's gains, with shares of the big insurer up 1.8%. It's a pretty good day around the health insurance sector, and many of United's rivals are also up, but this stock has treated investors especially well in 2013. In the past month alone, shares of United have been catapulted 11%. Goldman Sachs upgraded the stock from "neutral" to "conviction buy" earlier in the week, citing the company's 2013 positive outlook and expressing optimism for growing profits in 2014. Right now, there's plenty of wind in United's sails.

PC-related tech stocks are leading the Dow upward, with both Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) surging 1%. Reports have emerged that an Intel-powered tablet from Asus could be on the way, following on the heels of Asus' Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) tablet. If true, it's a big win for Intel, helping the company establish more of a mobile presence to compete with rising rivals who have taken over smartphone and tablet chip making.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has picked a fight with Google. The company's recent "Scroogled" ad is launching an assault on Google's Gmail and its privacy concerns, trying to push users toward Microsoft's competing Outlook client. It's not the first time Microsoft has unleashed "Scroogled" -- the company did so last year as well, targeting Google Docs -- but it remains to be seen whether Microsoft can actually win over any users with the campaign.

Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) isn't sharing in today's optimism, down 1% to lead all Dow laggards lower. The company has begun to notify airlines that deliveries of its 787 aircraft will be delayed after last month's notorious mishaps led the FAA to ground the plane on Jan. 16. A safety probe of the craft is ongoing, but with no time frame for the plane to be back in the air, it could be a long wait for Boeing investors as the company's newest aircraft flounders.

Go pro
Are you at ease... or nervous? It's been a great five-year run for investors, with the Dow and S&P at or near all-time highs. Yet fears abound. When will the next downturn hit? Will political gridlock lead to portfolio-killing inflation? To learn how to protect your portfolio, click here for free guidance from the Motley Fool Pro Academy!


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