Big Pharma Led the Dow to New Highs Today

Investors have been as clear as they can be about what they see as their ideal situation. In the simplest terms, they want the support that the Federal Reserve has provided to the markets without any suggestion that they desperately need that support. That's been a fine line for the Fed to walk, but the early announcement of the Federal Open Market Committee's latest minutes suggests that the central bank has managed to keep its balancing act going. Investors applauded the measured approach that the Fed is apparently taking, sending the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) up 129 points to another record high, while the S&P 500 hit levels it had never seen before, even on an intraday basis.

In writing about the Dow's pharmaceutical components this morning, I had no idea they would eventually prove to be the stars of today's session. But Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) both rose almost 3% today, because of a combination of company-specific news and general bullishness on the two dividend giants. Pfizer announced that its palbociclib experimental treatment for advanced breast cancer received FDA designation as a breakthrough drug, which should help it earn an expedited development and review schedule as Pfizer plans appropriate research for the drug.

For Merck, the positive news came from the FDA's review of the company's application to create a pill form of its Noxafil drug to treat fungal infections. The treatment is already available in liquid form, but Merck believes that a pill version presents a valuable additional therapy option, especially for those with compromised immune systems.

Finally, MannKind (NASDAQ: MNKD  ) jumped about 8%. The company is expecting to finish clinical studies in the next couple of months that could help determine the fate of its Afrezza inhalable insulin product, which MannKind wants to submit for FDA approval by the fourth quarter of 2013. Speculation about MannKind's future has driven the stock to levels it hasn't seen since early 2011, but the stock remains well off much higher levels from 2009 and 2010, as well as before the financial crisis struck.

Merck has done a reasonably good job of getting past the expiration of its Singulair asthma drug, but it continues to battle patent expirations and pipeline problems. 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.



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