The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) bounced back on Monday, rising 108 points as of 11:30 a.m. EDT. Dow Jones component Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) was a notable underperformer, trading largely flat on the session. Other tech stocks, however, were faring far better -- WebMD (NASDAQ: WBMD ) and F5 Networks (NASDAQ: FFIV ) surged to the upside.
Retail sales rise
Perhaps helping to fuel the Dow Jones' rally, U.S. retail sales came in better than expected early on Monday. According to the Census Bureau, consumers spent 1.1% more on goods in March than they did the month prior; economists had projected a gain of 0.8%.
Stronger than expected retail sales is a positive sign for the U.S. economy and, by extension, the market. If consumers are more willing to spend, it suggests a stronger labor market and a more confident consumer.
Microsoft lags its index
Microsoft shares were likely limited by a downgrade from sell-side analysts.
Deutsche Bank cut its rating on Microsoft from buy to hold, based largely on valuation concerns. The bank had upgraded Microsoft to buy several months prior based on a number of major upcoming events, including the launch of the Xbox One and a new CEO. With these events having passed, Deutsche Bank doesn't see new catalysts that will continue to propel Microsoft shares, which are up more than 36% in the last 12 months.
F5 Networks boosted by analysts
In contrast, F5 Networks' shares were moving 5.5% to the upside after Stifel Nicolaus upgraded shares from hold to buy with a $120 price target, suggesting upside of more than 10%.
Stifel Nicolaus said it expected F5 Networks' revenue to exceed expectations when it reports earnings later this month. The analysts believe the company's pricing policies have been particularly popular with customers, and that the company is far more relevant now in the networking space than it was just a year ago.
WebMD raises guidance
WebMD was one of the best performing stocks in the overall market on Monday, rising nearly 20% in early trading -- likely due to the boost in the company's expected earnings performance.
WebMD announced on Monday that its upcoming earnings results should be quite strong, with revenue and adjusted EBITDA coming in at the high end of its guidance range. WebMD noted that traffic to its website had been increasing, with 32% more visitors in the current quarter compared to last year. WebMD, with a price-to-earnings ratio of more than 140, is an aggressively valued stock. Stronger than expected earnings should help it maintain the growth its investors are banking on.
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