What Launched the Dow to All-Time Highs Today

With a number of earnings reports topping expectations, new data showing growth in the economy, declining unemployment claims, and an easy-money Federal Reserve policy, Wall Street had no choice but to advance Thursday. The Philadelphia Fed released numbers today detailing a sudden jump in economic activity, and jobless claims nationwide fell 24,000 last week, more than expected. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) added 78 points, or 0.5%, to end at 15,548. 

America's largest health-care provider, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) , was the gem of the index today, as shares surged 6.5% after reporting blowout second-quarter results. The insurer grew membership at a much quicker rate than analysts anticipated, though margins contracted slightly, and revenue didn't wow anyone. UnitedHealth sounded upbeat about the future, though, which excited shareholders.

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , which announced impressive earnings of its own just yesterday, added 3.1%, advancing for a fifth straight day as Wall Street applauds what looks to be a new chapter in the bank's history. Shares also benefited from analyst optimism today: UBS boosted its price target on shares to $14.50, while Barclays upped its target to $15 as the Charlotte-based bank continues to shore up its balance sheets and settle financial crisis-era litigation. 

Aerospace heavyweight Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) jumped 2.7% Thursday, as markets reacted to the news that the fire on a Dreamliner 787 last week in London can likely be averted by simple means. British investigators claimed the emergency locator beacon was the likely culprit; the beacon can be simply switched off, or removed, in about an hour, according to Boeing. While it sounds like an important component, it's not even required in the U.S., and a European regulator already OK'd the planes to fly without the locator temporarily. 

Like Bank of America, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) stock was a big mover, in part because of new analyst sentiment following its quarterly report yesterday. Unlike Bank of America, that recent sentiment has been negative, and shares dropped 3.8% today as several outfits lowered price targets. Not only did the chipmaker miss revenue expectations in the second quarter, but its forecasts for the rest of the year were weaker, as well. The good news is that the company plans to focus more heavily on mobile computing as consumer tastes shift rapidly in that direction.

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