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If I were a doctor, and there were a prescription for an instant pick-me-up for the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) , I'd almost surely say that it would be better-than-expected U.S. home data.
Earlier today, the S&P Case-Shiller composite index of the 20 largest metropolitan cities in the U.S. demonstrated 1% month-over-month improvement in home prices, and an 8.1% spike from the year-ago period -- the biggest such jump in six years. A report from the U.S. Commerce Department more or less confirmed this trend, with home sales up 12.3% from this time last year. Inventory levels remain low, so it's not exactly a booming market as of yet, but housing prices do continue to improve.
Manufacturing data also helped lead the charge higher, as durable goods figures reversed January's 3.8% decline to post a 5.7% rise, thanks largely to an order bump in transportation equipment.
Still, consumer confidence remains tempered at best, with the index falling from 68, to 59.7. Although signs exist that the economy may be slowly improving, higher taxes and fears of a sequester-induced recession remain high.
Overall, the S&P 500 finished decisively higher by 12.08 points (0.78%), closing at 1,563.77, just 1.38 points from its all-time closing high.
Today's biggest gainer within the index was content streaming kingpin Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) , which advanced better than $9, or 5.4%, after Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves reiterated his "outperform" rating on the company, and drastically boosted his price target to $225, from $160. Specifically, Hargreaves noted that he underestimated Netflix's ability to expand its subscriber base in the U.S., and underestimated its gross margin expansion capability. By 2021, Hargreaves is forecasting that Netflix will have 40.8 million international subscriptions yielding a gross margin of a robust 26.5%. While I can appreciate Netflix's unique position in content, my foolish colleagues Alex Planes, Travis Hoium, and I found numerous kinks in Netflix's armor, and its valuation continues to be a primary concern.
Agricultural seed and genomics company Monsanto (NYSE: MON ) , which prides itself on helping improve farming productivity, jumped 4.4% after DuPont (NYSE: DD ) agreed to pay $1.75 billion to it in order to put an end to ongoing patent litigation between the two companies. The deal will allow DuPont to license Monsanto's genetic technologies for a minimum price of $1.75 billion through 2023. It actually looks like a great deal for both parties involved, with DuPont able to combine Monsanto's technologies with its existing technologies, and Monsanto receiving ample research and development cash with which to improve its own product line.
Finally, oil and gas driller EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG ) announced a joint venture with ZaZa Energy in the Eaglebine formation in Texas, and rose 4%. The two companies will be developing about 100,000 gross acres, with EOG earning a 50% to 75% working interest, depending on the current ownership structure of that acreage. This news comes on the heels of a report yesterday that Eagle Ford shale oil output had risen by 50% in January. EOG is the largest leaseholder in the Eagle Ford, which could bode well for production and profit come earnings time.
Can this amazing run continue for Netflix?
The tumultuous performance of Netflix shares since the summer of 2011 has caused headaches for many devoted shareholders. While the company's first-mover status is often viewed as a competitive advantage, the opportunities in streaming media have brought some new, deep-pocketed rivals looking for their piece of a growing pie. Can Netflix fend off this burgeoning competition, and will its international growth aspirations really pay off? These are must-know issues for investors, which is why The Motley Fool released a brand-new premium report on Netflix. Inside, you'll learn about the key opportunities and risks facing the company, as well as reasons to buy or sell the stock. The report includes a full year of updates to cover critical new developments, so make sure to click here and claim a copy today.