Lately, U.S. investors haven't been paying a lot of attention to Europe, despite its ongoing economic woes. But with Italian elections underway, European stocks soared as early exit polls suggested that an outcome favorable to investors was increasingly likely. In addition, Japan's plans to enact economic stimulus measures could boost prospects not only for the island nation but for trading partners in the U.S. and Asia as well. Despite these tailwinds, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) had lost a few points by 10:55 a.m. EST, while the broader markets posted slightly larger percentage gains.

Within the Dow, companies aimed at low price points for consumers enjoyed nice advances, with Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) both near the top of the gainers' list, up about 1% each. For Wal-Mart, last week's earnings report raised concerns of flat future results stemming in part from payroll tax hikes that took some disposable income away from customers, but as delayed income-tax refunds start coming in, the remainder of the current quarter may look brighter. Meanwhile, McDonald's has dealt with similar sales issues in recent months, but a European rebound could help the global fast-food chain immensely.

Elsewhere, Affymax (NASDAQOTH:AFFY) has plunged 85% after having to recall its Omontys anemia treatment for dialysis patients after the FDA reported that three people had died at U.S. dialysis centers from anaphylactic reactions after taking the drug. Clearly, the combination of potential legal liability and the loss of drug sales are causing the huge drop, and it will take a while for things to smooth out for Affymax.

Finally, ITT Educational (NASDAQOTH:ESINQ) fell more than 13% on news that the SEC is investigating its private loan programs. With private education companies having taken heat from other government regulators for quite a while, an SEC investigation is just one more hit to the struggling industry.