A record close on the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) will have to wait for another day, with economic data actually playing the spoiler today, and sending the indexes modestly lower.
On the positive side, industrial production rose a cumulative 0.7%, led mostly by strong auto sales. This was a nice reversal for the modest dip in January, and shows encouraging signs that auto sales are still revving along. However, consumer sentiment figures tumbled to their lowest levels since Dec. 2011, 71.8, despite the fact that the Dow Jones is at its highest level ... ever! Part of the reason could have to do with a combination of higher taxes being taken out of people's paychecks, as well as a delay in receiving refunds which help spur purchases, but it's nonetheless quite confusing.
For the day, the S&P 500 dipped 2.53 points (-0.16%), to close at 1,560.70. Despite the modest losses, three companies really stood out to the upside.
Today's decisive winner was public utility CenterPoint Energy (NYSE:CNP), which rallied 7.2% after announcing a partnership with OGE Energy (NYSE:OGE) and Arclight Capital Partners, which will create a nearly $11 billion midstream company. The partnership, which should get the green light from regulators, should begin in the second or third-quarter, and will combine CenterPoint's interstate pipelines and field service businesses with Enogex, a midstream company owned jointly by OGE and Arclight. Midstream transportation and storage is big business, and it could be one of the smartest investments of this decade. CenterPoint and OGE may have just laid the groundwork for other utility companies to follow.
Banking giant and top two holding of mine, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), tacked on 3.8% after the full results of the Federal Reserve's stress test showed that it passed with flying colors. More importantly, the Fed also approved the banks' capital plan, which includes a $5 billion share repurchase program, and the redemption of $5.5 billion worth of preferred shares. As my fellow Fool Jessica Alling noted, shareholders looking for a bigger dividend will be a bit disappointed, but it should be only a temporary lull, as this is clear-cut evidence that Bank of America is well-capitalized and ready to get back to business. I feel Bank of America could still have plenty of room to run higher.
Finally, Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS) followed in Bank of America's footsteps, edging higher by 3%, after a deeper dive revealed it, too, passed the Fed's stress test without a hitch. The Fed also approved Discover's capital plan, which includes a $2.4 billion share repurchase program -- replacing the last share buyback program that was for $2 billion, and had approximately $600 million remaining -- and a whopping 43% increase to its dividend, from $0.14, to $0.20 each quarter! Discover will now be yielding 1.8%, and is showing you exactly why I chose it as a great dividend you can buy right now. The financial services sector is a dividend juggernaut of the future, and investors should take notice!
Fool contributor Sean Williams owns shares of Bank of America, but has no material interest in any other companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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