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This morning, the Labor Department reported that the number of jobless claims filed last week fell to the seconded lowest level in five years, at 339,000. This came as economists were expecting claims to come in at 351,000. The report indicates the jump in March was a one-time thing, which some have blamed on the colder-than-usual weather during the month.
The positive jobs report gave the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) a boost today, as it closed higher by 24 points, or 0.17%, while the S&P 500 rose slightly more at 0.4%. But, the big index winner today was the Nasdaq, which managed to game 0.62%.
A few Dow winners
Shares of Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) popped 2.74% this afternoon after a fresh report circulated that the company may soon offer $100 billion to buy the 45% stake of Verizon Wireless that Vodafone owns. This is just another report in a long string of recent rumors, so at this time investors shouldn't be making any big moves into or out of Verizon until the reports have been confirmed. But as my colleague Travis Hoium noted earlier today, the transaction would help both Verizon and Vodafone, although Verizon would probably be holding the short end of the stick at the negotiation table.
For the second day in a row, shares of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) rose more than 1%. Yesterday they rose 1.4% and today they increased by 1.06%. Today, Foolish writer John Maxfield pointed out that the number of bullish analysts has been growing over the past few weeks. And although investors weren't thrilled with the company's earnings report, which caused shares to fall 7% over a couple of days, shares are closing in on their 52-week high, which leads some to believe the analysts may be correct.
A few Dow losers
Shares of both Merck (NYSE: MRK ) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) fell by 1.25% and 1.11%, respectively, today. With neither company having yet announced first-quarter earnings (Merck is scheduled for May 1 and Pfizer for April 30), investors pounded the drug companies after Bristol-Myers Squibb reported that sales fell 27% in the first quarter this morning. Bristol-Myers did match analysts' earnings-per-share estimates at $0.41 per share, but it missed on revenue. Two of the company's big drugs, Plavix and Avapro, saw their shares fall 95% and 78% during the quarter because of generic competition. With Merck and Pfizer also fighting the patent cliff, this is probably one reason investors are selling today.
Also today, Pfizer announced that it will keep the quarterly dividend at $0.24 per share. And lastly, despite the FDA's approval of Pfizer's rheumatoid arthritis drug Xeljanz, European regulators rejected the drug today. The company said it will appeal the decision.
Can Merck beat the patent cliff?
This titan of the pharmaceutical industry stumbled into 2013 and 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.