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.
Despite the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) ending the week on a positive note by finishing slightly higher, today's economic data couldn't have possibly been more confusing.
The primary market mover was the release of the December jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Following the ADP National Employment Report and lower weekly initial jobless claims figure earlier this week, the expectation was for robust nonfarm payroll job growth. What investors got, instead, was an increase of just 74,000 nonfarm jobs in December compared to economists' expectations for the addition of roughly 200,000 jobs.
Ironically, though, because the labor force participation continues to shrink this disappointing gain helped the unemployment rate plummet 0.3% to just 6.7%, its lowest reading in six years.
By the time the market had digested this push-pull jobs report, the S&P 500 had pushed higher by 4.24 point (0.23%) to close at 1,842.37. For a second straight day, however, it was all health care companies leading to the upside.
Leading the pack yet again was Intercept Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ICPT), which many, including myself, had figured would be tuckered out after a 281% romp higher yesterday. Today, Intercept, a clinical-stage developer of chronic liver disease therapies, advanced "just" $170 per share, or 61.6%, after four brokerage firms upped their price targets on the company. Most notably, Bank of America Merrill Lynch boosted its price target from $81 to $872 per share on the heels of strong midstage results from obeticholic acid, or OCA, Intercept's treatment for nonalcoholic steathohepatitis, a liver disease that affects one in eight people in the U.S. Bank of America Merrill Lynch also pegged peak sales of OCA at $4 billion per year. While I certainly can't refute the impressive response in midstage trials of OCA, I'd have to think that certain unrealistic expectations have potentially been baked into Intercept's share price to lift the stock up better than 500% in two days.
Biopharmaceutical company Endocyte (NASDAQ:ECYT), which focuses on developing therapies to treat cancer and other inflammatory diseases, advanced 28.6% following positive commentary from RBC Capital Markets. According to RBC, the risk-versus-reward on Endocyte is positive here, and the research firm believes that Endocyte's pipeline can fuel future growth regardless of how well vintafolide performs in a midstage non-small cell lung cancer study. Endocyte is partnered with Merck (NYSE:MRK) on the project, and vintafolide has demonstrated early efficacy in treating ovarian cancer and NSCLC. However, I suspect Endocyte will need solid results from its NSCLC trial if it has any hope of holding today's big gains.
Finally, pharmaceutical services provider PharMerica (NYSE:PMC) gained 27.1% after issuing its preliminary 2014 guidance and announcing the acquisition of BGS Pharmacy Partners. PharMerica said in a press release it anticipates reporting $1.35-$1.50 in earnings per share and $1.67 billion-$1.72 billion in revenue in 2014. By comparison, Wall Street expected $1.47 in EPS and $1.52 billion in revenue, so it's a clear beat on the top line. PharMerica also outlined its two-step approach to growth over the next two years which involves cost reductions to achieve $50 million in annual savings and a focus on acquisitions that will add at least $100 million to its top-line per purchase. With Obamacare now implemented and PharMerica riding a four-quarter streak of EPS beats, I feel the company could have further upside potential.
Fool contributor Sean Williams owns shares of Bank of America, but has no material interest in any other 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.
The Motley Fool owns shares of , and recommends Bank of America. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.