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Stocks have taken a beating over the past two weeks, but Wall Street's getting a welcome moment of respite today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has shaken off the recent big drops to gain 106 points by 2:25 p.m. EDT. Strong economic news came in today: Durable-goods orders rose more than 3% in May, and new-home sales rose more than 2% for the month -- two signs that show the economy is still churning slowly higher, even if the market's recent downward swing hasn't shown it. Stocks are mostly in the green today, so let's take a look at the movers and shakers.
Big banks on the rise
Big banks are leading the charge higher today, with Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) out in front of the Dow, up 2.7%. B of A has risen sharply over the recent past, especially with last year's Dow-leading gains, but the company faces enough scrutiny and litigation to overshadow its stock's run-up.
The recent furor over the Home Affordable Modification Program, in which Bank of America employees allegedly were rewarded for denying or delaying mortgage modifications in order to push foreclosures, is just the latest PR blow. With the Countrywide Financial problems still fresh in everyone's minds, it will take time for Bank of America to salvage its reputation -- whether it's guilty of the HAMP allegations or not.
Another hard-hit company is among today's leaders, but at least Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) is showing signs that it's moving in the right direction. The tech giant's shares are up 1.6% today, and while HP is still heavily reliant on the ailing PC market for sales, CEO Meg Whitman is turning to the right sources of growth for HP's future.
HP is looking to contend with tech leader IBM in data mining and analysis. It recently fired a shot at Big Blue, showing off its HAVEn data-analysis software. Big data is part of Meg Whitman's strategy to return HP to profitability soon and put the recent PC market's crash and the nearly $9 billion writedown of the company's Autonomy acquisition out of shareholders' minds. The company's turnaround won't likely be complete for a couple of years, but HP is showing signs of life.
Finally, Merck's (NYSE: MRK ) among a few Dow stocks failing to generate any momentum today. The pharma giant's shares are treading water despite its big victory today: An Indian court granted Merck an injunction against a local firm looking to provide generic versions of Merck's two patented diabetes drugs, Januvia and Janumet. The diabetes therapies have emerged as Merck's dynamic duo of blockbusters, growing to nearly $6 billion in sales last year. Considering that India's population is a hotbed of diabetes, the country's a major area of interest for Merck, which has lost sales to the patent cliff.
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