Still gathering momentum in anticipation of corporate earnings, the markets rallied again today. Wall Street got some help from the Federal Reserve, which released the minutes of its latest meeting earlier than expected today. Bulls cheered the release, which suggested the central bank will only slow quantitative easing efforts when the job market improves markedly. Ending at an all-time record close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) added 128 points, or 0.88%, to finish at 14,802.
Health care was one of the strongest sectors today, and Merck (NYSE: MRK ) shares didn't disappoint, adding 2.9% to lead the Dow. A Jefferies analyst raised his price target on the shares to $48, citing his bullish view on pharmaceuticals, because of compelling valuation. The company also announced that the FDA will review Merck's application to market an antifungal drug it's trying to hawk in Europe as well.
It's no surprise that the FDA also played a role in Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE ) 2.8% climb today; drug manufacturers often live and die by the rulings of the regulator. Shares soared after the FDA labeled an experimental breast cancer treatment as a breakthrough medicine, meaning the agency will give priority review to the drug, speeding up the process it requires to get to market.
With tech stocks also flying high today, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO ) advanced 2.4% Wednesday. Trading a little over 10 times forward earnings and paying a 3.3% dividend, Cisco shares offer compelling value in a Dow that's risen 13% this year alone. The company's new offerings with Microsoft to boost data-center productivity may also help send the stock higher if they catch on quickly.
But not everyone can be winners. Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT ) , for instance, was one of only four decliners in the Dow, slipping 1% on PR-related negativity. The executive who called the retailer's sales "a total disaster" in February, sparking investor fear, is leaving the company. A Facebook group of Wal-Mart critics, "Making Change," derided the departure as "more of the same failure to address the real issues."
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