Apple, Microsoft, and Verizon Lead Dow Jones Higher

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) rose more than 100 points as of 11:30 a.m. EST Wednesday. But even as the broader market rallied, a few notable giants were posting even more impressive gains. Shares of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) , Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ  ) all rose more than 1% early in the session.

Empire State beats expectations 
A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York may have helped the Dow Jones rally; the Empire State Manufacturing Index rose to 12.51 this month, significantly higher than economists' 3.75 forecast. Empire State Manufacturing is a measure of the economic activity in the New York region, and a better-than-expected result suggests that the economy may be stronger than thought.

Still, the figure isn't the most significant in terms of measuring the broader U.S. economy. Although it's a positive sign, investors shouldn't put too much stock in one data point.

Apple's CEO talks up Chinese opportunity
Apple shares were up more than 2% early on Wednesday, following The Wall Street Journal's publication of an interview with CEO Tim Cook. In the interview, Cook talked up Apple's prospects in China, remarking that iPhone sales there have picked up steam and that iOS devices account for 57% of mobile Internet browsing in China.

Starting Friday, subscribers to China Mobile, China's largest wireless provider, will be able to purchase Apple's iPhone. The deal with China Mobile could result in millions more iPhones sold in the coming quarters.

Verizon win draws controversy
Verizon shares rose nearly 2% Wednesday following a legal victory that sparked widespread controversy.

If the federal appeals court ruling on "net neutrality" stands, Verizon and other Internet providers will be able to prioritize certain Web traffic, making it difficult (or nearly impossible) to reach certain websites. In the future, Verizon may be able to extract additional revenue from particularly popular websites or charge users based on which websites they visit.

Microsoft defies critics
Microsoft shares, meanwhile, rose 2.4% despite a lack of positive news. In fact, Microsoft's gain was defying its critics -- on Tuesday, Citigroup downgraded Microsoft shares to neutral from buy, citing risks surrounding the next CEO.

If Microsoft names an insider to replace outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer (something that's looking increasingly likely), shares could dip below $30, according to the analysis. Citi reasons that investors are hungry for a change, and a current Microsoft employee might be unwilling or unable to shake the company up as much, or as quickly, as an outsider. 

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