Investors have been scared of high inflation for a long time, and traders apparently didn't want to have a lot of exposure to the stock market heading into Thursday morning's release of the September Consumer Price Index. After having spent most of the day in positive territory, the S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.27%) and Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -0.18%) once again set fresh closing lows for the year, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.51%) moved modestly lower as well.


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Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

Amid the turbulent market, though, there were a couple of stocks that gave investors positive surprises. Moderna (MRNA 13.67%) and Alcoa (AA -4.40%) are in very different industries, but both companies got some good news that made their shareholders happy.

Moderna plots a course beyond COVID-19

Shares of Moderna closed higher by 8%. The company best known for its COVID-19 vaccine announced a partnership with a key player in the pharmaceutical space that shed light on how Moderna hopes to make money in other areas as well.

Merck (MRK 0.26%) said early Wednesday that it had exercised its option to develop and commercialize Moderna's candidate personalized cancer vaccine mRNA-4157/V940. Currently, the companies are evaluating the mRNA therapy in combination with Merck's Keytruda in a phase 2 trial of patients with high-risk melanoma.

Moderna and Merck have worked together since 2016, and under their agreement, Merck will pay $250 million to exercise its option and will collaborate on development and commercialization. Going forward, the two companies will share costs and profits equally.

Moderna also got good news on its COVID-19 vaccines, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizing the use of boosters for kids ages five and older. Rival Pfizer (PFE 3.64%) and BioNTech (BNTX 11.11%) got similar emergency use authorization from the FDA, but in conjunction with favorable guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the move could mean more vaccine sales in the near term for the whole vaccine stock group.

The concept behind Moderna's personalized cancer vaccines is potentially game-changing, as the vaccines are designed to prepare a person's immune system to generate a tumor-fighting response that's tailored to their particular tumor mutation signature. That could potentially produce far superior outcomes compared to broader general-purpose treatments -- and if it works, Moderna investors won't have to worry about potentially decaying sales and profits from its COVID-19 vaccine products.

Alcoa could get some help from the White House

Elsewhere, shares of Alcoa were up 5%. The aluminum maker started out the day on uncertain footing, but a midday announcement from Washington got investors more excited about Alcoa's prospects.

The big move higher in Alcoa stock came just after 11 a.m. EDT, when reports surfaced that the Biden administration is looking at banning aluminum imports from Russia. U.S. officials have been hesitant to take action in the aluminum market because of Russia's extensive production capacity as the second-largest maker of aluminum in the world, as well as the heavy demand from multiple industries for the lightweight metal.

In response to the news, aluminum prices jumped, as sanctions would potentially force aerospace, automotive, and consumer electronics companies to seek alternative sources for the commodity. That would potentially boost demand for Alcoa, allowing it to raise prices and make more profit from its product sales.

Even with today's gains, Alcoa's stock trades at extremely low multiples to its earnings, suggesting that investors expect the current commodities boom to fade relatively quickly. However, if trade tensions preserve premium prices in the aluminum market, it could play to Alcoa's advantage for a lot longer than many had expected.