Slower than expected economic growth in the fourth quarter couldn't slow down the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) this week, and the index posted a 1.36% gain. The U.S. economy grew just 2.4% last quarter, down from a previous estimate of 3.2%, and may have been affected by weather across the country.
It's been a rocky start for the Dow in early 2014, with earnings up and the economy growing slowly, but surely investors can still find some big winners on the market. Let's take a look around.
The Dow's top stocks
Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) was up 5.5% this week after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings. Earnings per share rose 7.4% from a year ago to $0.73 and would have been another $0.07 better if the quarter weren't a week shorter than a year earlier.
When retailers are struggling just to stay afloat, Home Depot saw same-store sales rise 4.4% and 4.9% overall. While online retailers are taking share from most bricks-and-mortar retailers, Home Depot has a strong moat because its products are more difficult to sell online. When combined with improvement in the housing market, this makes for one of the best retail stories around right now.
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) was up 4.7% this week, but it was actually an announcement from competitor Humana that caused the bump. In a regulatory filing, Humana said that Medicare Advantage reimbursement rate cuts would be between 3.5% and 4%, much lower than the previously expected 6% to 7%. UnitedHealth and Humana are two of the largest Medicare Advantage providers in the country, and cuts from the government program would squeeze margins. At the very least, smaller cuts are positive to these insurance companies.
American Express rounds out the top three Dow stocks, gaining 2.9% for the week. There wasn't much news out about the company, but positive data from the housing sector and a slowly improving consumer are helping the financial-services company draw investors betting on a further recovery. Credit card use is on the rise, and long-term that's a good thing for American Express.
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