European stock markets rose strongly this morning when they reopened after a four-day holiday weekend. The FTSE 100 was one of the biggest risers, up 1.1% at 7:25 a.m. EDT, with telecom firm Vodafone topping the leaderboard with a 5.1% gain. Vodafone has been the subject of a number of recent rumors relating to the sale of its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless, but today's gains were prompted by a more detailed report in the Financial Times suggesting that Verizon and AT&T could be preparing a 260 pence per-share breakup bid for the firm.
This morning's European gains were achieved despite disappointing data showing that manufacturing contracted in all major EU economies in March, including Germany, where the Markit manufacturing PMI dropped from 50.3 to 49 last month. Eurozone unemployment hit a new record of 12% in March, leaving it 1.1% higher than one year ago. Spain admitted that it would need more time to hit its budget deficit reduction target, while in Cyprus, the country's stock exchange reopened after a two-week closure, and the government said it would relax the capital controls that were put in place last week, allowing larger transfers of money to foreign accounts.
In the U.S., today's economic reports include February's factory orders, due at 10 a.m. EDT. Consensus forecasts suggest that factory orders rose by 3% in February after falling by 2% in January. The latest motor-vehicle sales figures are also expected through the day, and analysts are forecasting a decline in total sales from 15.4 million to 15.3 million.
It's a quiet day for corporate earnings, but earlier this morning spice maker McCormick reported earnings per share of $0.57 on net sales of $934 million for the first quarter of its 2013 fiscal year. The firm also confirmed its 2013 outlook for 3% to 5% sales growth and full-year EPS of between $3.15 and $3.23. BGC Partners could be the day's biggest mover -- the company's stock gained 40% in premarket trading after Nasdaq OMX agreed to buy BGC's bond-trading platform for $750 million in cash. Dow constituent Hewlett-Packard fell 3.4% in premarket trading after Goldman Sachs downgraded the company's shares to "sell."
Finally, let's not forget that the Dow's daily movements can add up to serious long-term gains. Indeed, Warren Buffett recently wrote, "The Dow advanced from 66 to 11,497 in the 20th Century, a staggering 17,320% increase that materialized despite four costly wars, a Great Depression and many recessions." If you, like Buffett, are convinced of the long-term power of the Dow, you should read "5 Stocks to Retire On." Your long-term wealth could be transformed, even in this uncertain economy. Simply click here now to download this free, no-obligation report.