Political dealings undermined the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) from advancing for a second straight day. Stateside, investors are leery about $85 billion worth of automatic spending cuts that are set to take effect Friday unless Democrats and Republicans find a common ground to delay the implementation of what are deemed necessary budget cuts. Overseas, the Italian election could yield a divided Parliament, which threatens to delay or alter already agreed upon austerity measures for the highly indebted nation.
All told, these worries dragged the S&P 500 down by 27.75 points (-1.83%) to close at 1,487.85. Despite the decisively negative tone, three companies took center stage and helped, in some part, to pull the index higher.
Biotechnology giant Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN ) was the biggest winner today, up 3.1%, following the complete recall of Affymax (NASDAQ: AFFY ) and Takeda Pharmaceuticals' anemia drug, Omontys. According to a press release on Saturday, of the 25,000-plus patients that have been prescribed Omontys, 0.2% have developed a hypersensitivity reaction, with a third of those suffering from anaphylaxis -- 0.02% of total patients suffered a fatal reaction from the once-a-month injection. With Omontys now out of the way, Amgen's Epogen, the dominant anemia drug for the past two decades, can essentially reign unopposed yet again. With countless deals in place with dialysis clinics, Amgen is still in the driver's seat.
Office supply retailer Staples (NASDAQ: SPLS ) was the second-biggest gainer, advancing 2% despite no company-specific news. I consider this to be a continuation of the rally in Staples that began last week when the No. 2 and No. 3 in the office supply sector, Office Depot and OfficeMax, respectively, announced plans to merge. Staples stands to benefit from store closures associated with cost synergies from the merger and will pick up customers in any situation where the merger falters. The key will be whether Staples can retain the customers it gains from the temporary disruption caused by the Office Depot/OfficeMax merger.
Finally, Total System Services (NYSE: TSS ) , whose shareholders beat the stock up last week on its proposed $1.4 billion acquisition of prepaid card company NetSpend Holdings, rose 1.3% after receiving an upgrade from Raymond James. Raymond James upped Total System Services to "outperform" from "market perform" and set its price target on the company at $25, citing upside from its NetSpend purchase as the catalyst. I've been saying for quite a while that financial service companies such as credit processors and prepaid-card companies are the best way to play the financial sector, and I believe Raymond James' upgrade proves that point.
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