Why Financials Led the Dow to New Heights

Investors have seen this story before: An early morning decline in the market turns into a sizable gain by the close of trading, based on overall positive sentiment and a lack of attractive alternatives to stocks. That script played out again today, with the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) overcoming early weakness to jump another 60 points, setting yet another record in the process. The S&P 500 also joined the Dow at record levels, even outperforming the Dow on a percentage basis with a half-percent gain.

Leading the way for the Dow were financial stocks, which have played a key role in the record run for the stock market over the past several months. American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) topped the gainers list with a rise of 1.8%. Hedge fund Farallon Capital Management revealed that it had boosted its stake in the card giant by 2.1 million shares as of March 31 compared to its holdings from the previous quarter. The company also took advantage of low interest rates by issuing $1.85 billion in five-year notes, refinancing $1 billion in maturing debt paying 4.875% with new bonds on which it will only have to pay 1.55%, producing a savings of more than $33 million annually.

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) was just behind AmEx, posting a 1.7% rise. The bank may have benefited from a slight improvement in delinquency rates, with rates falling a tenth of a percentage point for April compared to March. Yet the real impetus for the stock's improvement may stem from the prospects of extended low interest rates, with today's deflationary producer-price index report giving the Fed plenty of room to keep its policy accommodative without triggering higher prices.

Finally, beyond the financial sector, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) rose by 1.5%. Investors have gravitated toward consumer stocks because of their traditionally defensive characteristics, as rising stock markets have created anxiety from those who don't want to put their profits from the past several years at risk. Yet multiples for P&G are fairly rich as a result of all that investor demand, potentially removing some of the margin of safety from its shares.

With big finance firms still trading at deep discounts to their historic norms, investors everywhere are wondering if this is the new normal, or if finance stocks are a screaming buy today. The answer depends on the company, so to help figure out whether JPMorgan is a buy today, check out The Motley Fool's premium research report on the company. Click here now for instant access!


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