The stock market gained ground on Wednesday morning, with investors getting past some company-specific headlines to focus on the broader strength of corporate America. As of 11:20 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up 198 points to 25,753. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) rose 24 points to 2,816, while the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) gained 67 points to 7,658.
High-profile stories like the Ethiopian Airlines crash continued to draw a lot of attention from market participants, and that threatened to leave some other key news unnoticed. CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) has seen its stock lose half its value since 2015, but it's up today despite the company getting an invitation to go before lawmakers. Meanwhile, favorable reports in a key meat market helped lift shares of Sanderson Farms (NASDAQ:SAFM).
Congress wants a word with CVS
Shares of CVS Health rose 4%, with investors reacting favorably to positive comments from stock analysts at Bernstein. The analyst company noted that it expects the majority of prescription fulfillments to move to online sources in the long run, but that didn't stop it from giving CVS an outperform rating and setting a $76 per share price target on the stock. That implies a 40% upward move for CVS shares.
Yet the analyst's comments come shortly after CVS got an invitation from the Senate Finance Committee to testify before Congress on April 3. Certain high-profile senators have been extremely critical of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) like the CVS Caremark unit, arguing that they act as unnecessary intermediaries that simply skim extra profit from transactions between pharmaceutical companies and consumers. Having already talked to large drug companies who blamed PBMs for high prescription prices, the committee wants to get the other side of the story, and CVS will join several of its peers to make its case.
For its part, CVS has worked hard to position itself for whatever comes next, becoming a healthcare-retail conglomerate that includes thousands of retail locations and a health insurance company alongside its PBM business. However, CVS will probably never own a pharmaceutical company, and shareholders can expect CVS to see continued tension with drugmakers for the foreseeable future.
Sanderson stock takes flight on chicken wings
Shares of Sanderson Farms were higher by a more modest 2% on Wednesday morning, but that marked its best share-price level since late 2016. The meat company earned favorable comments from analysts at JPMorgan, who said that rising chicken prices were putting Sanderson in a much more favorable position. JPMorgan boosted its rating on the stock from underperform to neutral, setting a price target of $127 per share, $39 higher than its previous call and roughly where the stock trades today.
Things are still far from certain for the chicken market's near-term prospects. The possibility that tariffs between the U.S. and China could ease up if the two nations come to a trade agreement is a definite positive, and overall chicken volume across the industry has fallen recently. However, some competitors are looking at boosting their chicken capacity, and that could spur another downward move in the pricing cycle for the chicken market.
However, Sanderson Farms has gotten more optimistic. In its latest conference call with investors in late February, CEO Joe Sanderson said that although prices for boneless breast meat fell to all-time lows toward the end of 2018, he's seen a recovery in the market over the past couple of months. Lower prices for feed are also helping the company, and Sanderson wants to bolster growth in key niches. Rather than playing chicken against rivals by concentrating solely on volume, Sanderson has taken an approach that emphasizes quality as well -- and that could pay off for shareholders in the long run.