Lately, the stock market has seemed to look for any excuse to rise, and today was no exception. Positive news on the weekly jobless claims number isn't usually all that earth-shattering, but it helped vault the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) to an 84-point rise, breaking through the 14,500 level, and setting an eighth-straight record on its tenth consecutive day of gains. Skeptics grow increasingly concerned about the euphoria of this record run, but today's advance was broad based, with small-cap stocks actually rising a more substantial 1% on the day.
But many stocks missed out. Merck (NYSE: MRK ) was the Dow's biggest loser, dropping the better part of 1% today on news that the FDA is investigating diabetes drugs to see if there might be a link to potential pancreatic inflammation and pre-cancerous changes. Although many companies make such drugs, Merck's Januvia has been particularly successful, stepping up to provide a much-needed revenue boost when the company lost patent protection on its Singulair asthma medication. Any threat to that success could pose a big problem for Merck going forward.
Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) fell three-quarters of a percent. Yesterday's retail sales number seemed like a reasonably strong one, but reading into the details revealed some concerns about the strength of the consumer-led recovery. Home Depot's stock has climbed so substantially based on the belief that strength in the housing market would provide leadership for the overall economy, but anything that puts that theory in jeopardy could lead to a rapid reversal of Home Depot's gains.
Outside the Dow, E*TRADE Financial (NASDAQ: ETFC ) fell 8%, as hedge fund Citadel announced it would sell off more than 27 million shares that it owns. Investors had hoped that Citadel might put together a bid to take over the brokerage company outright, but the sale signals that those hopes aren't going to come to pass. Brokers have had a tough time, given low interest rates and overall investor apathy and, barring new interest from investors chasing record highs, it's hard to see the environment getting much better for E*TRADE soon.
Finally, SandRidge Energy (NYSE: SD ) fell 2.4% as it announced that directors nominated by activist investors at TPG-Axon Capital would take their places on the board immediately. With CEO Tom Ward having come under fire for alleged conflicts of interest from personal oil-and-gas land deals involving family members, the move could lead to Ward's ouster, which TPG-Axon has sought for some time. The controversy is a distraction from the need for the oil and gas producer to focus on maximizing efficiency in a tough pricing environment, especially on the natural-gas side of the business.
Merck has battled patent expirations and pipeline problems before, but losing Januvia would be a huge additional blow. Is Merck still a solid dividend play, or should investors be looking elsewhere? In a new premium research report on Merck, the Fool tackles all of the company's moving parts, its major market opportunities, and reasons to both buy and sell. To find out more, click here to claim your copy today.