Record highs have been a daily occurrence for the markets as of late, and despite an up-and-down day, the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) wouldn't be held back from hitting new intraday marks yet again today. Investors weren't disappointed with the S&P's 0.3% gain on the day, nudging the index up to a close at 1,890.
Give a hand to two economic reports that came out today that had investors feeling chipper from the morning's opening bell. ADP released its numbers for private sector hiring this morning, chalking up a gain of 191,000 new jobs among private sector payrolls in March. That was right around economists' median projections and marked a sizable 7% uptick from February's revised 178,000-job gain. A better picture of the U.S. jobs market will come out with the official Department of Labor data on Friday, but for now, hiring's seemingly picking back up with the frost of the unseasonably harsh winter finally thawing.
Separately, the Commerce Department's report on factory orders for February turned up better-than-expected results. The month's orders picked up by 1.6%, the biggest monthly gain since last September and enough of a bounce to outpace economist estimates. It wasn't all rosy in the report -- machinery orders dipped by 1.2%-but a boom in transportation orders, particularly out of commercial aerospace goods that jumped by more than 13%, kept factory orders rising. Auto and airplane sales have been on fire lately, but look for gains across the industrial sector in the coming months. The sector's closely tied to the economy's progress, and if the U.S. economy can continue to capitalize on its momentum, leading industrial firms and stocks should be poised to benefit.
Three of the biggest top movers today didn't come from industrials, however. A trio of health care highlights lit up the market today, as Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ: ISRG ) and Myriad Genetics (NASDAQ: MYGN ) jumped by 5% and 11.4%, respectively. Those gains were nothing compared to today's top winner, however, as MannKind (NASDAQ: MNKD ) , absolutely exploded for a 74% gain today.
Let's start off with today's large-cap winner, Intuitive Surgical. The robotic surgical system maker's stock jumped following yesterday's announcement that the FDA approved the company's latest da Vinci robotic unit, the da Vinci Xi, and shares followed up with an encore performance today. Intuitive's hoping the Xi, with its smaller arms and improved range of motion, can open up the device to be used in new surgical procedures and gain ongoing acceptance with the medical community. It's imperative that Intuitive can make the most of the da Vinci's success: The company's been struggling with system sales, which fell 23% in the past quarter, and today's era of tightening hospital budgets doesn't offer a break for the robotic surgical giant.
However, investors have rallied around the Xi's approval as hope for better results -- and that hope's justified. If Intuitive can expand the number of surgical procedures its robot line can handle, it'll see a big boost not just to system sales, but also to revenue from system accessories and instruments -- a major key to the firm's performance.
Genetic testing stock Myriad Genetics took home an even better day today after it received a welcome boost from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Back in late December, the CMS had announced that it would cut reimbursement rates heavily for Myriad's gene diagnostics tests for breast cancer. That took down the stock then, but Myriad bounced back today after the CMS's final price cuts ended up much less than originally expected. It's a big win for Myriad with concerns over competition blowing about this stock, although Myriad's 61% year-to-date rise does invite caution when approaching its shares.
No stock had a day like MannKind did today, however. The FDA delivered an astronomical, although not final, win for the developmental biotech stock today as a panel of agency outsiders recommended MannKind's inhalable insulin drug Afrezza for regulatory approval. Although the panel questioned Afrezza's effectiveness in treating adults with type-1 diabetes, it still voted 13-1 to recommend approval -- and more importantly for investors, the panel voted unanimously to back approval for Afrezza in treating adults with type 2 diabetes, the much more common and widespread type of the disease.
MannKind's struggle to bring Afrezza to the market isn't over just yet, but today's huge win marks the company's overcoming of a giant stepping stone. The FDA will finish its review of the drug on April 15, and approval looks like a great shot for MannKind now. Keep an eye on MannKind's push to find a partner to commercialize the drug, though while that's still a major challenge facing the company, today's news should ease MannKind's burden.
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