The economy's giving the Dow Jones Industrial Average(DJINDICES:^DJI) a boost into new record-setting territory. The Dow has risen 47 points, or 0.32%, as of 2:25 p.m. EST, riding on the back of strong employment data. Most stocks on the blue-chip index are in the green, and all signs point to a happy ending to this investor-friendly week. Let's check out the biggest stories on the Dow today.
Jobs rise as financials fall
Optimism over the employment picture fueled the Dow's early gains and has kept the index in the green ever since. The unemployment rate fell from 7.9% to 7.7% in February, and some analysts see hope that the figure could fall to an even 7% by the end of the year. That's good news for an economy still emerging from the recession despite stocks' record gains. Some on Wall Street even expressed fear that the falling unemployment figure could impact the Federal Reserve's ongoing stimulus efforts, but that's unlikely: Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is sticking to his goal of 6.5% unemployment with the current "QE Infinity," and America's still a long way from reaching that lofty mark.
McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) is gaining today, with shares of the fast-food giant up 1.6% to lead the Dow higher. Stronger employment -- and thus more money for low- and middle-income consumers -- will help boost McDonalds' lagging revenue. Company sales in February fell less than expected: According to data released today, global sales for restaurants open 13 months or more fell 1.5%, besting analyst expectations of a 1.63% decline. It's a modest gain for McDonalds, but it's a sign the company's plight may be improving -- and investors have bought into the optimism today.
Shares of Disney (NYSE:DIS) are also on the upswing today, although the 1.6% gain has nothing to do with unemployment. Sales projections have risen for the company's new box-office release, Oz: The Great and Powerful, the new take on the classic "Wizard of Oz" story. Boxoffice.com raised its expectations for domestic sales by 17% to $75 million for the movie's opening weekend. Disney needs the movie to do well: Oz cost around $225 million -- no chump change, even for a company as large as Disney.
On the other side of the Dow, however, financial stocks are sinking. Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), which always seems to rank among the biggest movers on the blue-chip index, leads all Dow laggards lower, down 1.5%. Rival JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) ranks close behind with losses of 0.9%. The losses come after the Federal Reserve determined that 18 of the 19 financial institutions it put through a stress test are capable of weathering a severe economic downturn; only Ally Financial failed to make the cut. Bank of America came out strong from the test, with its results pushing Edward Jones to upgrade the stock from a "hold" to a "buy" yesterday. Still, investors haven't bought in yet as the sector as a whole falls.