The Surprising Stocks Behind the Dow's Gain Today

As often happens, occasions that Wall Street looks forward to with bated breath turn out to be non-events in terms of market reaction. Some investors believed that today's testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke might result in the same levels of volatility that we saw last month, when the Fed had its first serious discussion about easing off on the quantitative-easing accelerator pedal. But for the most part, Bernanke didn't say anything that his audience didn't already know, and the market traded in a relatively narrow range, with the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) finishing up 19 points and narrowly missing a record high.

Still, the market's quiet day didn't stop a few stocks from picking up serious ground. DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) was the hot stock in the Dow, soaring more than 5% to levels not seen in more than a decade on reports from CNBC that Nelson Peltz and his Trian Fund Management investment firm had taken a large stake in the chemical giant. Neither Peltz nor Trian confirmed or denied the report, but the stock's price jump indicates how much shareholders are banking on the activist investor's reputation for squeezing more value from companies he targets.

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) also made sizable gains, rising almost 3% as the bank's combination of solid net income and cost-cutting measures helped the bank beat its earnings estimates. Perhaps more importantly, Bernanke's comments seemed to stabilize the bond market, which has been extremely turbulent in recent months as fears of the Fed's QE exit pushed interest rates higher. With the 10-year Treasury bond trading below 2.5% today, the possibility of one last run at relatively low mortgage rates could create big demand for home loans as buyers rush to get what they might see as a last chance at cheap financing.

Finally, outside the Dow Industrials, airlines had a good day, with United Continental (NYSE: UAL  ) jumping 8% and Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL  ) posting a 3% gain. Despite recent trouble in making fare hikes stick, airlines have done a great job of boosting fee income and posting solid bottom-line earnings lately. Moreover, United Continental's announcement today that it will pioneer the commercial use of the Split Scimitar winglet design in a retrofit of its fleet of 737-800 aircraft. The move could help improve efficiency by 2%, which should help United's earnings rise even further.

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