The PMI's Strong Showing Keeps the Dow Running Higher

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Stocks have swung into the green today behind strong economic data, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has jumped by more than 50 points as of 2:15 p.m. EDT. Most stocks on the blue-chip index have moved higher after the Institute for Supply Management released their monthly Purchasing Manager's Index, which showed strong growth out of the manufacturing sector in October. Health care's biggest stocks aren't shying away from the gains either, as Pfizer  (NYSE: PFE  ) picked up gains of more than 1.7% to lead the Dow higher today, while Johnson & Johnson  (NYSE: JNJ  ) gained around 0.6% so far. Let's catch up on what you need to know.

A strong showing from the PMI
The ISM's PMI released today advanced to a reading of 56.4% for October, a slight gain over the 56.2 mark set in September and well ahead of the midpoint reading of 50 that shows neither expansion nor contraction in the manufacturing sector. While it was a good reading for the sector, a few notable changes in the PMI stood out.

Employment declined by 2.2 points in October to the 53.2 mark. It's still showing growth in manufacturing employment, but it's slowing down. Furthermore, production also slowed its growth by nearly 2 full points in October as compared to September. Both signs aren't bad for companies looking to shed costs by slowing down the rate of hiring labor and production, but the production mark looks slightly concerning given that poll respondents out of the machinery industry told the ISM that business customers are "cautious" and that business overall is "flat to slightly down."

Still, there are good signs going forward, as well. Manufacturing exports picked up strongly in the month and managed to outpace imports in the sector. Furthermore, new orders also continue to grow in the sector, coming in at a reading of more than 60. Order backlogs, a key measure of how companies are prepared for the future, also have turned up, changing from contraction to expansion in October.

While some weakness remains in manufacturing right now, this key sector looks healthy moving into the last few months of the year.

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have responded with the rest of the market's rise about this healthy part of the economy. Both firms are looking strong themselves with earnings beats in the past month as the pharmaceutical business continues to flourish. That's good news for Pfizer as it looks to battle back from the patent cliff's withering hit on its sales, but Johnson & Johnson needs to turn around its medical device division, which has slowed down now that the effects from last year's giant acquisition of orthopedics device maker Synthes have worn off.

Still, both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson haven't disappointed investors this year, with each ranking among the top half of the Dow's performers year to date with stock gains of more than 25%. If these companies can keep up their strong showings in their pharmaceutical businesses, expect their stocks to continue smiling upon investors headed into 2014.

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