It can leap tall buildings in a single bound; it's a bird, it's a plane ... no, it's the Dow Jones Industrial Average and it's sidekick, the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC), which cannot be stopped. Today marks the tenth consecutive advance of the Dow Jones, and the ninth advance in the past 10 days for the S&P 500, as better-than-expected economic data again propelled the indexes higher.
Initial jobless claims again provided the biggest spark with a drop of 10,000, to 332,000, from the previous week -- a week during which analysts expected jobless claims to rise to 350,000. An improving job market is critical to a sustained U.S. recovery. In addition, the producer price Index for February rose by a less-than-expected 0.7%, signaling that inflation is still well under control.
For the day, the broader-based S&P 500 ended higher by 8.71 points (0.56%), to close at 1563.23, just two points below an all-time record closing high.
Today's top gainer was natural gas and oil driller Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), which rose 5.2%. The irony was that stronger natural gas prices were only part of the reason why Chesapeake zoomed higher today. The other half emanates from a deal struck between SandRidge Energy (UNKNOWN:SD.DL) and activist hedge fund TPG-Axon Capital that could lead to the removal of highly embattled CEO, Tom Ward. Both Ward and McClendon, according to a Reuters report, had actively managed a $200 million hedge fund when Ward worked at Chesapeake, which is odd because they were trading in the same commodities that their company produced. Ward's removal would signify a continued purging of skeptical leadership in the energy sector, and give hope to investors that a rebound may be on the horizon for both Chesapeake and SandRidge.
For Noble (NYSE:NE), which followed closely behind Chesapeake and tacked on 4.6% today, it almost was all about rising natural gas prices. Noble has received multiple boosts in the past few days, including lower-than-expected natural gas inventory storage figures today, as well as a report from Baker Hughes that natural gas rig counts decreased for the fifth time in six weeks to just 407 rigs -- the lowest level in about 14 years. With supply generally contained, natural gas prices should soon begin to rise, and companies like Noble will see their margins and profits inch higher.
Finally, continuing our theme of energy outperformance, CONSOL Energy (NYSE:CNX) chugged higher by 3.9%, despite dealing with a mine fire this week. Helping send the share price higher was a mixture of a BMO Capital upgrade to "outperform" from "market perform" on Tuesday, and rising natural gas prices today. As natural gas prices rise, coal becomes a much more lucrative and cost-effective electricity-generating option. If utilities slow their switch from coal to natural gas, companies like CONSOL are bound to see coal prices stabilize and demand pick up.