With strong consumer sentiment numbers at its back today, stocks again shot higher, finishing out their fourth straight positive week with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) climbing 121 points, or 0.8%, to finish at 15,354.
In recent days, the Dow hasn't needed much of a reason to propel it higher as markets have moved up simply on bullish projections from insiders, but today investors got some hard evidence that better times may be ahead. The consumer confidence index from the University of Michigan hit a nearly six-year high, jumping to 83.7. That figure was up from 76.4 a month ago, and experts had predicted an increase to just 78.5. The numbers are particularly promising: Just a few months ago, consumer confidence was floundering as average Americans worried about the effects of the payroll tax hike and sequestration. Consumers seem encouraged by the stock market rally, and improvements in the housing and labor markets.
JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) led all Dow components, climbing 2.6% after the bank sent a letter last night urging shareholders to back Jamie Dimon in his dual leadership role as both CEO and chairman. Dimon's ironclad control over the bank has come under controversy recently after several major proxy groups said they would vote to oust him from his chairmanship role at next Tuesday's shareholder meeting. Dimon's once-sterling reputation has been under a cloud since the London Whale scandal broke, and some investors believe JPMorgan would be better off with the leadership roles separate as traditional corporate governance standards demand. JPMorgan also won a victory today from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as my colleague Jessica Alling explains here.
Elsewhere, Boeing (NYSE: BA ) shares were also up strongly, gaining 2.4%. The market research firm FactSet revealed today that the aircraft maker was the favorite choice of the top 50 hedge funds in the first quarter. The news is surprising given Boeing's struggles to overcome battery-fire issues in its 787 Dreamliner jet. Still, the report help explains why shares of the aerospace giant are up 31% this year.
On the down side, the Dow's two pharmaceutical stocks, Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) and Merck (NYSE: MRK ) , were its biggest losers today, falling 1% and 0.8%, respectively. Merck was down after hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller dumped his entire stake in the drugmaker, which could have led to concerns about the entire sector. Both of the pharma giants are struggling to get over recent patent cliffs as they reported revenue declines in the recent quarter. Also, as low-volatility stocks selling mainly inelastic goods, they are mostly unaffected by the market rally and the jump in consumer confidence.
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!