Merck Props the Dow Up

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is down slightly after finishing higher for the past six trading sessions. As of 1:15 p.m. EDT the Dow is down nine points, or 0.06%, to 14,436. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) is down 0.26% to 1,552.

There were two economic releases this morning.

Report

Period

Result

Previous

NFIB Small Business Economic Trends

February

90.8

88.9

Job openings

January

3.69 million

3.61 million

The one to pay attention to is the Department of Labor's job openings report, which showed that job openings edged up in January by 80,000. Hiring and turnover were unchanged from December at respective rates of 3.1% and 3%. The jobs market is a key factor for the U.S. economy, and it has been holding back the domestic recovery as the unemployment rate stays high. Rising job openings show a healthier economy as companies look for more employees.US Job Openings: Total Nonfarm Chart

US Job Openings: Total Nonfarm data by YCharts.

The report also showed 2.2 million quits -- the highest level since 2008. The level of quits is seen as a barometer for employees' confidence in their ability to find another job and, thus, their confidence in the economy. The level of quits has risen rather steadily since 2009.US Quits: Total Nonfarm Chart

US Quits: Total Nonfarm data by YCharts.

Today's Dow leader
Today's Dow leader is Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) , up 3.3%. Earlier today, a medical advisory panel said a large trial for Vytorin can continue. Vytorin is a cholesterol-limiting drug that, along with Zetia, provided the first real competition for Pfizer's Lipitor. The trial includes 18,000 participants, was started in 2005, and is scheduled to end in September 2014.

Merck is trying to show conclusively that Vytorin is significantly more effective than Zocor, another Merck drug that is now available in generic form. Vytorin currently has sales of about $1.75 billion per year, down from 2008, when two smaller studies raised doubts over Vytorin. The first study showed that Vytorin led to an increased risk of cancer, while the second study showed that Vytorin was no more effective than generic Zocor. The continuation of the study is good news for Merck, as it shows that the panel believes the study has a good chance at a positive result. A successful Vytorin trial would be a boon for Merck going forward, but we won't know the result until next September.

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