S&P 500 Approaches 1,600, Dow Inches Higher

Stocks crept higher again today as the S&P 500 set another record at 1,597, coming within inches of the 1,600 milestone. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) , meanwhile, moved up 21 points, or 0.14%, to finish at 14,840.

Economic reports were mixed as the Chicago PMI dipped into contraction range with a rating of 49.0, hitting a three-and-a-half year low. The figure was significantly coming below projections of 52.0 and down from last month's total of 52.4. Stocks fell off after the report, but began to recover after a better-than-expected consumer confidence report came out. The Conference Board said consumers' perception of the economy jumped from 59.7 last month to 68.1 in April, well ahead of expectations of just 61.0. The recovery in home prices and record-high stocks helped lift consumer sentiment.

The two contradicting reports presented a muddled message for investors trying to decipher which direction the economy is headed.

Turning to individual stocks, Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) tumbled 4.5% after releasing earnings this morning. The drugmaker fell off as it cut guidance and turned in an EPS of $0.54 a share, a penny below estimates. Revenue, however, was down 9% from a year ago, at $13.5 billion, missing analysts' mark by about 4%. Pfizer has struggled to overcome the expiration of its patent on Lipitor, which was the world's best-selling drug for a decade. Generic competition is also eating into margins on other Pfizer brands as the company is now cutting costs to try to grow profits, and is focusing on developing very expensive drugs for limited markets and targeting China. Pfizer cut its full-year EPS forecast by $0.06 to $2.14-$2.24, and dropped its revenue forecast as well, in part due to currency translation weakness.

IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) was a big gainer for the second day in a row, rising 1.7% after authorizing an additional $5 billion for share buybacks, bringing the grand total available to $11.2 billion. The tech giant also raised its quarterly dividend 12% to $0.95, giving it a yield of 1.9%. Coming a week after an earnings miss sent shares plunging 8%, IBM seems eager to fight back, gaining yesterday as well on the release of its MessageSight machine-to-machine communication software.

Staying in the tech sector, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  )  made headlines today after issuing the biggest non-bank debt offering ever, at $17 billion. As part of a strategy to reward shareholders and lower the iPhone maker's overall cost of capital, the company is borrowing money to buy back shares, as a majority of its cash balance is located overseas and would be subject to U.S. taxes if brought home to reward investors. Apple shares jumped 2.9%, and are now up 12% in less than two weeks.

There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever, and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded with over 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. Eric Bleeker, The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, is prepared to fill you in on reasons to buy and sell Apple and the opportunities left for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.


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