Morning Dow Report: Why Stocks Celebrated Early This Morning

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With the stock market set to close early for the Christmas Eve holiday, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) continued their solid performance, adding another 33 points to their ample gains of the past couple of weeks as of 10:45 a.m. EST. Solid economic data showing rising durable-goods orders of 3.5% in November and sharp gains of 8.2% in home prices over the past year encouraged investors to continue their bullish ways. Especially noteworthy among Dow stocks were Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) , Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) , and American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) .

Boeing climbed just 0.1% despite the good news in durable-goods orders. Commercial aircraft orders were a big part of the surge in the overall durable-goods number, with Boeing reporting 110 orders during November. That compares with 79 orders in October and shows the ongoing high demand that the aerospace giant has seen from airlines eager to take advantage of more fuel-efficient aircraft models. As has been the case for years, Boeing's main challenge is executing on the production of these orders to work off its backlog and deliver planes that keep customers coming back for more.

Johnson & Johnson declined about 0.1%. Reports surfaced late yesterday that the health care conglomerate was close to a deal to sell its diagnostic blood-testing unit to Carlyle Group for about $4 billion. The company has looked at various strategic options for the Ortho diagnostics unit for months, and a sale would help the company refocus on higher-growth areas that have played a bigger role in driving J&J forward recently, such as pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, with private-equity investors having struggled to find good deals, Carlyle could gain from trying to turn around the ailing unit.

American Express gained about 0.3% after announcing a settlement with regulators over various credit card-related financial products, including identity-theft, unemployment, and lost-wallet protection. AmEx will pay fines of $16.2 million and provide another $59.5 million or more in remediation payments to customers, most of which the company has already paid. AmEx has stopped offering the products, showing once more the extent to which heightened regulation has forced financial companies to be more aggressive in seeking other profit opportunities.

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