Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
The sixth trading day of the new year brought more positive economic data to the table for the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC); yet, it had a difficult time deciding which way it wanted to head today.
On the bright side, initial weekly jobless claims fell by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000 from the previous week, signaling that the jobs market is slowly improving and that the unemployment rate could continue to head lower. This data shouldn't come as too much of a surprise following yesterday's ADP Employment Report, which showed that 238,000 private sector jobs were added in December -- 35,000 ahead of estimates.
However, overhang from recently weak Chinese manufacturing data, coupled with language from the Federal Reserve that it will remain cautious with the tapering of its economic stimulus known as QE3, has investors concerned that U.S. economic growth may not be on as sound a footing as the recent data would suggest.
When the closing bell rang, the S&P 500 had managed to eke out a gain of 0.64 points (0.03%) to close at 1,838.13, just its second positive close in 2014.
Leading all stocks to the upside today -- and perhaps turning in the most impressive single-day gain witnessed in years from a non-small-cap stock -- was biopharmaceutical company Intercept Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ICPT), which advanced 281.1% (seriously... 281.1%!) after announcing that its mid-stage Flint trial involving obeticholic acid (OCA) for nonalcoholic steathohepatitis (NASH) was ended early due to statistically significant efficacy. NASH is a relatively common liver disease affecting up to 12% of the U.S. population and can lead to liver cirrhosis or death. Although there's a broad-market audience for OCA, and the data clearly points to strong efficacy, the execution and clinical data on OCA from here on out had best be perfect. Otherwise, the share price could easily fall.
Sticking within the health-care sector, Sangamo Biosciences (NASDAQ:SGMO), a developer of zinc finger DNA binding proteins, gained an impressive 38.3% after announcing a collaboration with Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB) to develop therapeutics to treat sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia. The deal will net Sangamo $20 million in upfront cash, and requires Biogen Idec to pay for any external and internal research related to its collaborative studies. Furthermore, Sangamo can earn up to an additional $300 million in milestone and development payments based on its partnership. The deal makes a lot of sense for both companies when all is said and done, with Biogen gaining access to a proprietary gene modification platform, and Sangamo getting extra working capital. Ultimately, though, I'd rather not chase Sangamo any higher until it proves its worth through clinical results.
Finally, online private health insurance platform for individuals, families, and small businesses, eHealth (NASDAQ:EHTH), exploded higher by 20.7% after reporting better-than-expected preliminary revenue figures for the fourth quarter. eHealth announced that it expects to report $53 million to $55 million in revenue for the fourth quarter (consensus estimates called for $49.2 million), as product demand jumped approximately 50%. On the downside, higher marketing expenses are going to drag its quarterly results into a range of a $0.03 per-share loss to a $0.04 per-share profit. Although marketing costs are up, the simple fact that multiple technical issues have existed with Obamacare's federally run website, Healthcare.gov, gives the company ample momentum heading into the March 31 coverage cutoff deadline for health insurance in 2014. In other words, this is a rally I suspect could still have legs.
The health-care sector offers a bevy of opportunities as you can see -- but this stock's growth potential may eclipse them all!
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Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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