Optimism About Jobs Leads the Dow Higher

Stocks are on the rise again, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) seemingly immune to losses during this record-setting rally. As of 2:15 EDT, the Dow has surged once again to new highs, gaining 54 points, or 0.37%. Positive jobless data is fueling today's run, and with most stocks in the green, investors are feeling pretty good. Let's dive into the details.

A bright new day for jobs
The Department of Labor reported that new applications for unemployment benefits fell another 10,000 last week, a surprise to economists who had predicted a rise of about 8,000. The average over the past month has now fallen to its lowest level in about five years, which is another indicator of the economy's progress and recovery from the recession. While the unemployment rate still hangs at a troubling 7.7%, the fall in benefit applications -- indicative of less firing -- means more workers are hanging onto their jobs and have paychecks to spend.

That's good news for consumer-oriented companies such as Proctor & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) . Shares of the conglomerate have advanced 0.7% today, contributing to the stock's 10.7% gain since the start of 2013. However, P&G still faces plenty of problems of its own: Falling gross margins and limited revenue growth have stalled the company's progress, and while the stock's tempting 2.9% dividend and relative stability appeal to income investors, it's hard to imagine where significant growth will come from, even in an improving economy.

Fellow conglomerate 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) , which has picked up modest gains of 0.75% today, faces similar questions of growth. Like P&G, this stock has risen sharply in the new year, and it appeals to income investors with its nice 2.4% dividend, modest 37% payout ratio, and history of dividend increases. 3M has always been known for innovation, but the company will have to hope its efforts in areas such as the natural-gas industry -- where it has developed fuel tanks for natural-gas-powered vehicles -- will help power tomorrow's growth.

Today's biggest gainers, however, have come from the tech sector. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) has reached Dow-topping gains of 1.7%, while IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) trails close behind, picking up 1.6%. As investors begin to take stock in HP's turnaround plan, the stock has been on the rise despite the ongoing woes of the PC market. HP recently announced that it will begin selling a $169 Android-powered tablet in April, marking the first step in the company's plan to carve out a niche in the lucrative mobile field. Investors hope it works: HP's mobile history is so far barren and empty -- part of the reason why it fell to such harrowing lows.

IBM, meanwhile, is moving into record territory with its gains. However, with the company predicting better-than-expected results from its data analysis business and possessing plenty of money for stock buybacks and dividend payouts, IBM's rise shouldn't scare off investors. This is one company that has the future well thought-out.

Is HP a buy now?
The massive wave of mobile computing has done much to unseat the major players in the PC market. However, HP is rapidly shifting its strategy under the leadership of CEO Meg Whitman. But does this make HP one of the least appreciated turnaround stories on the market, or is this a minor detour on its road to irrelevance? The Motley Fool's technology analyst details exactly what investors need to know about HP in our new premium research report. Just click here now to get your copy today.


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