It's awfully tough to knock this market off track. Even after data today showed a surprising slowdown in U.S. business activity, Wall Street cheered on news that home prices and consumer confidence continued to rise. Though the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) modest 21-point, 0.1% advance today isn't in itself anything to write home about, a fifth straight month of gains that has brought the index within reach of the 15,000 mark shows a determined bull market.
Technology stocks flexed their muscles for a second straight day, and International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM ) ended as the top gainer, rising 1.7%. Shareholders cheered Big Blue's decision to boost its quarterly dividend by 12% this morning, a move that brought the annual payout to nearly 2%.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) joined IBM shares in gains, adding 1.5% as it keeps its momentum from Monday's 2.6% surge. Yesterday's gains came as the company announced it reached the landmark $1 billion figure in annual revenues from cloud-related services. Today's gains are likely due to another development in the technology markets: Just after Microsoft's $1.95 billion bond offering last week, news of a $17 billion bond issuance by Apple today shows a confidence in the sector that should reassure shareholders.
While tech may be showing signs of renewed strength, the mood just got a bit bleaker in the health-care sector. Merck (NYSE: MRK ) slipped 1.7% ahead of its earnings report tomorrow. As is often the case, the dive was due to a poor showing by its rival Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) today that gave investors the jeebies. Although some recent developments -- such as the companies' deal to work together on a new diabetes drug -- remain promising, Pfizer's earnings disappointment overshadows all of that.
A brutal and sudden decline in patent protection for some of Pfizer's most lucrative drugs, combined with exchange-rate headwinds, caused Pfizer to lower expectations for the year. Shares tumbled 4.5% as a result, bringing Merck shares down with it.