Investors got a little good news heading into the weekend, a welcome sight to cap off a week of mixed economic reports. The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index, a gauge of 10 indicators, rose 0.6% to 95% in April, signaling better days ahead. The University of Michigan/Thomson Reuters Consumer Sentiment Index jumped to 83.7 in May from 76.4 a month ago, the best reading since July of 2007. These data points have the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) moving 0.75% higher and the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC ) up 0.95% with a half-hour left in trading.
JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM ) is one of the Dow's leaders today, climbing 2.5% in late trading. Reuters reported earlier today that merger and acquisition activity will pick up later this year and into next year as the stock market rallies and buyers fear they'll miss out on a long bull run.
Jamie Dimon also moved a few steps closer to keeping both the Chairman and CEO roles when one of T. Rowe Price Associates' largest stock funds said it would vote against a proposal to split the two positions. Results of the vote will be given at next Tuesday's annual meeting, and some observers have predicted a price drop for JPMorgan's shares if Dimon loses the vote.
Shares of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) have swung 0.9% lower after another bad quarter from PC competitor Dell. Profit dropped 80%, and Dell is dangerously close to losing money as PC sales fall. Overall PC division sales fell 9%, and the division consisting primarily of laptops dropped 16%. This isn't a new narrative for HP or Dell, but another negative sign has HP investors singing the blues today.
A strong consumer should help retailers, but Wal-Mart is down 0.8% today, because the consumers who are feeling good about the economy aren't shopping at its stores. Yesterday, the company reported a paltry 0.2% rise in same-store sales during the first quarter, and that's not enough to please Wall Street if consumers overall are doing well. A big reason for Wal-Mart's woes is the fact that it relies on low- and middle-income consumers -- the very same people who were hit most by the payroll tax increase on Jan. 1. I don't expect Wal-Mart's fortunes to turn around quickly, but eventually a stronger consumer will translate to higher sales, even at the bottom end of the market.