Dow Hits the Fast Lane Toward 15,000

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) jumped again today, riding a wave that carried the S&P 500 up 1.2% and lifted the Nasdaq 1.8%. The blue chips finished the day with a gain of 129 points, or 0.9%, topping 14,800 at the closing bell.

The Dow got some help from the Federal Reserve, which released the minutes from its Open Market Committee earlier than expected. After learning that 154 people had gotten the release, including employees at some major banks, the central bank was forced to release the notes at 9 a.m. instead of the usual 2 p.m. There was little new information from the Fed, but the news seemed to confirm investors' belief that the central bankers would keep present market stimulus measures in practice until the economy improves and the unemployment rate comes down. Some at the central bank said they wanted to reduce the Fed's bond buying, but overall the market interpreted the report favorably. Hopes for a better-than-expected earnings season also appeared to drive stocks higher.

While tech stocks pushed the Nasdaq up nearly 2%, pharmaceuticals were the biggest gainers on the Dow. Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) jumped 2.9% after announcing that the FDA had accepted a new drug application for Noxafil, a drug for the treatment prophylaxis of invasive fungal infections. Merck is seeking approval for daily use of the application, which is already used for patients over the age of 13 who are immunocompromised. The new drug application is the first step in a long approval process, but since the drug is already in use, its chances of passing are significantly higher.

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) received similar good news today, climbing 2.8% after the FDA called its experimental breast cancer drug, Palbociclib, a "breakthrough therapy." The drug is in late-stage testing and could be a life-saving treatment for many women who suffer from the often-fatal form of cancer.

There were only four losers among the 30 Dow components today, among them Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , which fell 1%. An Indian judge said he would seek more information from the world's largest retailer about its illegal lobbying activities in India. As Wal-Mart seeks to further penetrate the world's second-biggest country, it has again run into legal problems, which potentially include bribery. After hours, the company received some favorable news as the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Wal-Mart along with other retailers, said it would opt out of a $7.2 billion settlement with Mastercard and Visa, a decision that could give retailers greater leverage over the credit card lenders that take a significant bite out of their profits.

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