Stocks had a mixed day on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.15%) rising to a record close and the S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.04%) losing ground.

Today's stock market

Index Percentage Change Point Change
Dow  0.22% 46.09
S&P 500 (0.10%) (2.43)

Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

On a day when the markets were watching the Federal Reserve closely, rate-sensitive utility stocks gained, with the Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU -0.24%) up 0.5%. Crude oil prices plunged, and the Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLE -0.74%) lost 1.8%.

As for individual stocks, shares of tax preparation specialist H&R Block, Inc. (HRB -0.69%) were up strongly on earnings, and investors in large-cap biotech Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN) celebrated news of an executive hire.

Bull statue in Lower Manhattan

Image source: Getty Images.

H&R Block posts strong results

Shares of H&R Block soared 7.9% to a new 52-week high after the company reported fiscal Q4 earnings on Tuesday. Revenue for the full fiscal year was flat at $3.04 billion, and earnings per share from continuing operations came in at $1.96, up 28% from 2016. The company achieved a better-than-expected improvement in margins due to cost-reduction efforts. H&R Block also stepped up its return of capital to shareholders, announcing a 9% increase in the dividend and the repurchase of 6% of outstanding shares during the fiscal year. Since the authorization of the repurchase program in August 2015, the company has bought back a whopping 25% of outstanding shares.

In the press release, retiring President and CEO Bill Cobb said, "We came into this year with a very aggressive goal to change the client trajectory. With competitive promotions, impactful marketing and an improved client experience, we achieved this goal and also produced strong financial results, all during a year in which the industry experienced a decline in returns."

H&R Block has been dealing with a shift in its business from assisted returns to do-it-yourself online return filings, but the company announced in April that it has succeeded in gaining market share this year despite the change. With a forward yield of 3.3%, $1.2 billion remaining on its share repurchase authorization, and strong financials coming out of the 2017 tax season, it's no wonder investors appear optimistic about the future of the company. 

Alexion fills out its management team

Alexion Pharmaceuticals stock climbed 9.3% after the company named a new chief financial officer. The biopharma hired Paul J. Clancy away from rival Biogen, where the seasoned veteran had been CFO for a decade. 

"Paul is a world-class CFO who has distinguished himself in the biopharmaceutical industry," Ludwig Hantson, CEO of Alexion, said in the announcement. "He brings deep experience and a proven track record of managing a global organization, executing successful financial and capital allocation strategies to deliver long-term shareholder value, and cultivating strong relationships with the investment community."

Alexion is a $26.8 billion market cap biotech that specializes in drugs for extremely rare diseases. The naming of a new CFO closes a chapter of management turmoil for the company following an investigation that sprang from a former employee's allegations of improper sales practices. That investigation led to the delay of the company's third-quarter 10-Q filing last year, and the board announced the sudden departure of the CEO and CFO in December. Hantson, formerly in the top spot at Baxalta, was named to the CEO position in March. 

Investors are evidently hopeful that the new, experienced leadership team at the helm can right the ship and put the distractions behind it.