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Forget yesterday's losses: The markets are roaring back into the green this Thursday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) is making investors everywhere smile. As of 2:15 p.m. EDT, the Dow has pulled in gains of 116 points, or 0.79%, once again closing in on a record high. Surprisingly good economic data and a welcome decision from Europe have fueled investor confidence today, and nearly every stock on the Dow is in the green. Let's catch up on the stories you need to know.
Good news on both sides of the Atlantic
The European Central Bank kicked things off this morning by cutting interest rates in an attempt to light a fire under the continent's lagging business activity. The cut brings rates to a new record low, and as inflation dips, Europe risks stagnating in its recessionary climate. ECB President Mario Draghi will likely need to do more in order to prop up the European economy as Italy and Spain, among other nations, still face mountains of debt and high unemployment.
The economy's a bit better off in the U.S., and positive data today warmed investors up to the market's rally. Jobless claims fell by 18,000 last week, setting a new weekly low not seen since early 2008. Economists expect Friday's unemployment data for April to remain at 7.6%, but the jobless dip is a good sign that the slow American recovery isn't stalling out.
Among blue-chip stocks, oil majors have surged higher. ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) shares have jumped 1.2% to rank among the top Dow leaders, and fellow firm Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) has seen its stock rise 1.6%. Chevron got a boost today when a Canadian court turned away a $19 billion Ecuadorian claim against the company that stems from alleged pollution in the 1970s and '80s. While that's one less headache for Chevron, Exxon has run into trouble despite its stock's surge: The company's dealing with a small oil leak in Missouri from the same pipeline that leaked in Arkansas in March. While the spill is minuscule, it's another PR hit for a company that could use some good news.
Shares of hard-hit Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) have also risen sharply today, pulling in gains of 1.6%. Little news is out from the company, and today's rally is likely due to investors looking to pick up a beaten-down blue-chip stock for cheap after the shares had fallen more than 11% year to date. Caterpillar is still atop its industry, making it an attractive turnaround option for the long term when leading economies and industrial spending pick up. However, investors will have to be patient: With China's rise still stuck in a slump and Europe mired in recession, this economically reliant stock isn't likely to surge anytime soon.
Finally, shares of 3M (NYSE: MMM ) are also among the Dow's leaders, gaining 1.3% so far. The conglomerate posted earnings that missed analyst expectations of both EPS and revenue, and the whiff slowed down the company's stock last month after a rapid rise to start the year. Still, 3M's diversity and breadth make it a safe pick even after the company cited lower demand in some markets for the past quarter.
With more than 50,000 products, 3M plays a role in making everything from computers to power cables. A long history of invention and innovation has driven the company to its wide reach, but a focus on operational efficiency may be hurting the creative culture that once created Scotch Tape and the Post-It Note. A new leader has taken over, vowing to return innovation to the forefront. Does this mean the stock will become more than a dividend, returning to its former glory as a growth stock once again? Find out whether 3M has what it takes to pull it off in The Motley Fool's comprehensive new research report on the company. Simply click here now to claim your copy today.