The month of March has been kind to blue-chip stocks. Since closing at 14,054 on the last day of February, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has throttled ahead by 323 points, or 2.3%. And unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few days, you likely know that it's trading in record territory; the previous high was set more than five years ago in October of 2007.
The impetus for today's continued ascent can be summed up in one word: jobs. The Department of Labor announced this morning that domestic employers added an estimated 236,000 jobs last month, far exceeding the 160,000 median estimate of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal. In light of the gains, the unemployment rate declined to 7.7%, its lowest point since the end of 2008.
"People are starting to hire," a Morgan Stanley managing director told Bloomberg News, "and in fact they have been hiring for a few quarters." She then went on to note that some of the "caution with respect to the payrolls is starting to evade. You'll probably see a faster pace as people start to move toward growth as opposed to maintaining the status quo because of the uncertainty they feel in the market."
Following the news, the Dow opened higher by roughly 50 points and has stayed within a relatively narrow range ever since.
In terms of individual stocks, shares of Disney (NYSE: DIS ) and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) are leading the blue-chip index, up by 1.9% and 1.5%, respectively, in afternoon trading. With respect to the former, as my colleague Dan Carroll addresses in more detail, analysts recently raised revenue projections for the entertainment company thanks to its new take on the classic "Wizard of Oz" story.
And with respect to the latter, the popular fast-food chain reported better-than-expected same-store sales figures for the month of February. Sales at restaurants open at least 13 months fell 1.5%. By comparison, analysts had expected a 1.63% decline.
Heading lower, alternatively, are both of the Dow's banking stocks: Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) have seen respective losses of 1.4% and 0.9%. The moves come a day after the Federal Reserve announced the results of its latest stress test, which almost every participant passed. To see how these banks and 16 of their peers fared, click here.
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