The steroid era in baseball may be over, and Lance Armstrong may never again wear a yellow jersey, but when it comes to a quick fix, the stock market remains the place to go. U.S. stock markets soared at today's open following last night's comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that the central bank remains committed to "highly accommodative monetary policy for the foreseeable future."
Having suffered a correction, the markets are climbing in an apparent reflection of investors' belief that they overreacted to hints that quantitative easing would come to an end. As of 10:55 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) are up 135 points, or 0.88%, leaving the average just shy of its all-time record high close set in May. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq have posted even larger gains of more than 1%, putting the S&P close to a new high as well.
Believe what you will about the long-term effect of the Fed's actions, but today, you can see from the Dow's strongest performers how well the market is taking the news. Economically sensitive Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) are both up sharply today as investors weigh the impact of further stimulus on the U.S. economy -- and it seems they've decided that faster U.S. growth should lead to further global activity as well. Yet that's far from a foregone conclusion. For Caterpillar, the recent recovery in gold and silver prices could spark renewed interest from mining companies for heavy equipment, but price levels remain far below where they were earlier this year. Alcoa, meanwhile, needs greater evidence not only of renewed construction activity but also of constraints on aluminum supply from its competitors, especially in China. A boost in activity could actually spur Chinese aluminum-producers to make more of the lightweight metal, extending glut conditions and hurting Alcoa's long-term profit outlook.
Disney (NYSE: DIS ) also finds itself among the top winners in the Dow, climbing 1.9%. Despite concerns about the box-office underperformance of the company's Lone Ranger release, former CEO Michael Eisner reminded investors in an interview yesterday that one-time mistakes have little effect on the company's long-term prospects. With so many potential future blockbusters from Marvel and Lucasfilm, as well as Disney's traditional areas of strength, even the movie division in particular won't suffer more than a tiny bump in the road from Lone Ranger's shortfall.
Finally, outside the Dow, Apollo Group (NASDAQ: APOL ) has soared nearly 8% after its University of Phoenix had its accreditation renewed. With accreditation concerns having weighed on other stocks in the for-profit education industry, the positive news helped bolster shares throughout the sector. The industry still faces scrutiny from regulators over delinquent student loans and poor graduation rates, but today's moves give Apollo and its peers a shot in the arm following their terrible stock performance in the past few years.