Today looked like it was going to start off decisively negative, with China's cabinet voting to make it more difficult for investors in the country to purchase a second home. Inflation has long been a problem in China, and curbs being put in place could create negative headwinds in one of the few countries propping up global growth.
That all changed, however, by mid-afternoon, with the introduction of Republican measures in the House of Representatives aimed at minimizing the amount of spending reductions set to hit the military because of the sequester. The measures will predominantly exempt the FBI and border patrol from the spending cuts, which would be a big boost to defense contractors that rely heavily on government spending to drive their business.
All told, the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) completely reversed course and finished the day higher by 7 points (0.46%) to close at 1,525.20.
The biggest winner within the index today was insurance, annuity, and mortgage insurance provider Genworth Financial (NYSE:GNW), which jumped 6.7%. As MarketWatch recapped today, Genworth has been attracting the attention of fund manager Seth Klarman, whose firm, Baupost Group, currently owns 15 million shares, or 3%, of Genworth's stock. Although these aren't new positions for Klarman, it's a reminder to investors that Genworth's underwriting quality is improving right alongside the economy, which could bode well for shareholders moving forward.
Diversified oil and gas company Hess (NYSE:HES) shot higher by 3.5% after it announced a business overhaul that will entail exiting the energy trading and marketing business and selling its gas stations. Instead, Hess plans to double its annual dividend to $1 and repurchase $4 billion worth of its shares. This news comes just weeks after Hess announced that it'd be selling its oil terminals located predominantly on the East Coast. The expected IPO of this spinoff is projected to occur before the end of 2014. Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:MPC) was one of the first diversified oil and gas companies to perform such a split, followed closely by ConocoPhillips, and it's been an incredible success. Marathon's split allowed growth investors to focus on the oil and gas exploration side of the business, while dividend seekers were able to nab an investment in its refining business. Not surprisingly, Marathon Petroleum shot higher by 5.6% today as well.
Finally, big-box retailer Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) advanced by 3.6% after its board of directors approved its regular quarterly dividend of $0.17. Given Best Buy's numerous problems with regard to showrooming and lost sales, it's encouraging to see Best Buy's management team express enough confidence in its ongoing cash flow to continue paying out a yield that would amount to 4% annually. I continue to be encouraged by the initiatives Best Buy is putting into place, including price matching, which should give consumers an incentive to spend immediately rather than buying online.