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Stocks took no time getting back to work after the long weekend today as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) was flying out of the gate this morning. The blue chips were up more than 200 points before 10:30 a.m., but cooled off later in the day to finish up 106 points, or 0.7%. The gains were driven by two key pieces of economic data showing strong jumps and central banks in Europe and Japan indicating that lax monetary policies will remain in place. The gains were enough to give the Dow another all-time closing high.
Coming out before markets opened, the Case-Shiller 20-City Index showed the biggest gain in home prices in seven years, jumping 10.9% in March from a year ago, ahead of expectations of 10.2% gain. Though the news is two months old, it shows that the spring home-buying season has added further fuel to the housing recovery. Prices in the west including Phoenix, Las Vegas, and San Francisco grew the fastest.
Later in the morning, the consumer confidence report from the Conference Board showed an increase from 68.1 in April to 76.2 in May, easily topping projections of 72.5. The rating was the highest for the month of May since before the recession and its measurement of consumer attitudes hit its highest mark since February 2008.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) was the biggest beneficiary of today's rally, finishing up 2.2%. The gains seemed to come from investment research firm CLSA raising its price target on the Windows maker and reiterating its outperform rating, saying that investor sentiment is finally recognizing Microsoft's opportunity in enterprise solutions and cloud computing. Separately, market research provider IDC said PC shipments would fall 7.8% this year, instead of the 1.3% it projected earlier. The company also said tablet sales will surpass those for laptops this year and PCs in general in 2015. The report would appear to be bad news for Microsoft, which is heavily dependent on PC's and showed up late to the tablet party.
Among the few stocks to miss today's rally were AT&T (NYSE: T ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , falling 1.6% and 1.1%, respectively. At least one analyst believes that Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) Fiber, a super high-speed network that the search giant is rolling out in three American cities as an alternative to traditional phone lines and cable could be a serious threat to the telecoms. Like many of Google's projects, the goal of Fiber is not fully clear, but long term it could disrupt the current broadband/cable paradigm. Among other packages, Google is offering free Internet with a $300 setup fee in those select cities.
It's been a frustrating path for Microsoft investors, who've watched the company fail to capitalize on the incredible growth in mobile over the past decade. However, with the release of its own tablet, along with the widely anticipated Windows 8 operating system, the company is looking to make a splash in this booming market. In a new premium report on Microsoft, a Motley Fool analyst explains that while the opportunity is huge, so are the challenges. The report includes regular updates as key events occur, so make sure to claim a copy of this report now by clicking here.