Stocks ended with modest gains today, adding ground for the third straight week. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke somewhat soothed the markets when he spoke today by failing to hint at any future slowdown in bond purchases. Markets breathed a sigh of relief; yesterday a different Fed official indicated he'd like to slow down the buying. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) added 35 points, or about 0.2%, to close at 15,118.
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) shares rallied with the wider market, adding 1.7%. Despite a declining market for PCs, the company has shown some signs of progress as CEO Meg Whitman attempts to turn things around. Activist investor Carl Icahn, who's still trying aggressively to buy Dell, said today that a merger with HP might make sense down the line, which could strengthen both companies.
Another stock on a recent tear is UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), which rose 1.5% Friday to log nearly 7% gains on the week. On Wednesday, the White House released a trove of data detailing discrepancies in the prices of medical procedures at more than 3,000 hospitals across the country. The release pleased investors, driving the stock higher on hopes that it portends lower payouts down the line.
The third-largest blue-chip gainer, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) tacked on 1.3% today. There wasn't much behind the gains other than some antsiness before quarterly earnings come out on Wednesday. From a valuation perspective, you can understand the bullishness: Not only does the stock trade at just 10 times forward earnings, but it pays a hefty 3.3% annual dividend as well.
Lastly, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) stock was one of just seven decliners in the index, losing 1.5% today. Nearly 5% of Caterpillar's float is being sold short, making it the second most loathed stock in the Dow. Talks between Caterpillar and the United Steelworkers Union broke off late yesterday, showing the extent of the differences between the two sides as the 800 workers try to negotiate new contracts.
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