The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) didn't stop at the finish line. A day after setting breaking the record it set back in 2007, the blue chips added another 42 points, or 0.3%. A strong February employment report from the ADP helped get today's session started off on the right foot as the payroll processor said 198,000 private-sector jobs were added in February.
While ADP's report often differs significantly from the official data from the Labor Department, which is due out on Friday, the numbers were better than the expected total of 150,000 and conform with the market's belief that the employment picture is improving despite an unemployment rate still near 8%.
The Fed's summary of economic conditions, or its beige book as it's known, was also released this afternoon. The report showed that the economy expanded all 12 of the central bank's regions in January and February, though a variety of factors, including the payroll tax increase, the new health-care law, and the prospective budget cuts dampened the growth. The market seemed mostly ambivalent as shares traded within a narrow range following the release.
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) was the Dow's strongest performer on the day, benefiting from the strong jobs report and the Fed's mostly positive assessment of the economy. B of A is also awaiting the results of the Federal Reserve' stress tests due out tomorrow. Investors seem to be optimistic, as my colleague John Maxfield explains here. Passing the Fed's tests would allow the bank to raise its quarterly dividend, which currently stands at just a penny, despite the bank's return to profitability.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) was absent from today's rising tide, falling 0.9% after getting fined $731 million by the European Union because it did not provide a web browser choice screen in its new Windows 7 operating system, steering users toward its own Internet Explorer. The sum is negligible for a company worth over $230 billion, but could be a sign of other monopoly abuses across the Atlantic as well as of its need to bend the rules to hold market share.
Elsewhere in the tech world, Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) got another jolt today, rising 1.8% late in the session after news broke that activist investor Carl Icahn has reportedly amassed a 6% stake in the PC maker and plans to oppose the leveraged buyout the board agreed to in January. The vote of confidence from Icahn comes fresh off his big win after backing Netflix and likely has shareholders thinking there may be similar hidden value in Dell.