Following five straight sessions that saw the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) hit a new all-time high, it would have taken quite a slew of good news to keep the rally going. Today, the economic data was good, but apparently not good enough to sustain the market from its first down day in a week.
The big story was initial jobless claims, which fell 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 323,000 -- a five-and-a-half year low. Fewer people on unemployment benefits could signal that more people are finding work. With the unemployment rate at just 7.5% -- also a five year low -- it would give credence that more jobs are available, and point to a steadily improving economic outlook.
However, profit-takers got the better of long-term investors today, pushing the S&P 500 down 6.02 points (-0.37%), to close at 1,626.67. That didn't stop the following from three companies from bucking the trend, and heading significantly higher in the wake of the weakness.
Today's top performer was metal fabrication specialist Precision Castparts (NYSE: PCP ) , which gained 7.6% after topping estimates in the fourth quarter. As one of the Dow Jones Industrial Average's five most loved companies, my concern had been Precision's three-straight quarterly EPS misses. This quarter offered a nice change, as the company delivered 25% revenue growth, to $2.44 billion, as EPS rose to $2.82, $0.07 higher than estimates. It wasn't a home run, as revenue still missed estimates, but as long as aircraft replacement remains strong, Precision Castparts' business growth should be consistent.
Medical device maker Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX ) rallied 5.7% after announcing the four-year follow-up data to its Protect AF clinical trial. The results demonstrated that the company's Watchman left atrial appendage closure device was "statistically superior to warfarin for preventing cardiovascular death, all-cause stroke, and systemic embolization." The news is particularly encouraging, because safety surrounding cardiovascular devices has been a real concern in recent years. St. Jude Medical (NYSE: STJ ) today also had the safety of its Durata defibrillator leads reinforced by an independent review committee. However, this still marks two times in just a few years that the safety of St. Jude's leads has been called into question. For both companies, though, it looks like they've been given a tentative clean bill of health.
Finally, independent oil and gas exploration and production company Apache (NYSE: APA ) gained 4.8% after missing its first-quarter EPS results by $0.19, but the company excited investors with plans to double its asset divestment to $4 billion, and plans to repurchase 30 million shares. The asset sales will help Apache pay down its debt and give the company better room to maneuver should opportunities arise for quickly accretive acquisitions. In addition, Apache boosted its U.S. onshore liquids production by 45% over the previous year, pointing to a push toward higher margin, and less volatile liquids in its asset portfolio. It remains a very intriguing value play, even after today's pop.