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Stocks are broadly higher today on the back of impressive March auto sales and a positive development in the health care industry. With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) is up 71 points, or 0.49%.
Fueling the generally positive sentiment on Wall Street were the sales figures from the nation's largest automakers for the month of March. Ford (NYSE: F ) reported an overall increase of 5.7% relative to the same month last year. Year to date, that figure comes in at 11%. Ford's success was largely a function of SUV sales. While car sales declined by 0.2%, led by an 11.9% fall related to the Focus, demand for Ford's Escape and Explorer models soared 27.6% and 32.5%, respectively.
Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales, and service, said in the company's prepared remarks: "Customers are buying our all-new Fusion and Escape in record numbers, and we are working harder than ever to keep pace with demand for these fuel-efficient vehicles. Full-size pickup demand continues gaining momentum, outperforming the industry for the third consecutive month."
General Motors (NYSE: GM ) reported equally impressive results, notching its best March sales in five years. Its performance owed largely to its Cadillac and Buick brands, sales of which were higher during the month by 50% and 37%, respectively. By comparison, the significantly larger Chevrolet division was roughly even compared with the same month last year.
According to the company's prepared remarks, vice president of U.S. sales operations Kurt McNeil said:
GM delivered its best March sales in five years thanks to a strengthening economy and new products, and we are expecting our third consecutive increase in market share versus last year. Sales of smaller cars have been robust for some time. Trucks have improved in lockstep with the housing market and the strength of the crossover market signals that America's families are more confident about their financial health.
Not surprisingly, shares of both companies are up by more than 1% in intraday trading.
Meanwhile, shares of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) are leading the Dow higher today, up 4.9% at the time of writing. As my colleague Dan Dzombak discussed earlier, the move follows a surprise announcement last night by Medicare Advantage, a souped-up version of Medicare.
Earlier in the year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed cutting certain benefits that would flow through the enhanced health-insurance program. Its initial proposal included a 2.3% reduction in what the government pays to private insurance companies to administer the plans. This all changed with last night's announcement, as the CMS now plans to increase the amount by 3.3% instead. Sorta makes you think they left out a negative symbol on the first go-around.
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