Yesterday was the worst day the markets had seen in about six months, but you wouldn't have known it by the way buyers came back in full force today. A mixture of strong earnings data, a rebound in the gold markets, and positive economic data was enough impetus to send the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) decisively higher.
On the earnings front, perhaps no report stood out more than health-care conglomerate Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). Known for setting the tone in the health-care sector, J&J delivered better-than-expected first-quarter results as its pharmaceutical division, from a branded and over-the-counter perspective, delivered incredible results. Even better, J&J stuck to its full-year forecast calling for $5.35 to $5.45 in EPS, which seemed to please Wall Street.
With regard to economic data, housing starts soared in March to an annual rate of 1,036,000 homes -- 46.7% higher than the year-ago levels. This points to the strong possibility of a sustained housing recovery and should keep momentum squarely in homebuilders' courts.
Added together, this string of positive news pushed the S&P 500 higher by 22.21 points (1.43%) to finish at 1,574.57. Even with a strong gain of 1.43%, three companies vastly outperformed the overall index.
Industrial-equipment supplier W.W. Grainger (NYSE:GWW) was today's big gainer, tacking on 7.2% after it reported better-than-expected first-quarter results and boosted the low end of its previous full-year EPS forecast. For the quarter, W.W. Grainger recorded a 13% increase in profits as it saw strength across all geographic regions. Investors had been hesitant to dive into the company because of the potentially negative effects of sequestration, but today's low-end EPS boost signals that the company's visibility in the near term is getting clearer.
The whipsaw action for America's most controversial retailer continues, with J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) advancing 5.6% after rival Macy's asked a New York court for a temporary restraining order that would block Penney from selling unbranded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia products in its stores. Clearly, having Martha Stewart's products in its stores would be one way to bring in traffic, but Penney's new CEO, Mike Ullman, is going to need to do a lot more to bring back the bulk of its disgruntled customers than just win this court case.
Finally, beverage giant Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) jumped 5.7% -- a large move for the global giant -- after reporting its first-quarter results. Even though GAAP earnings dropped 13%, the highlights of the report included a 4% global volume growth, a $0.01 adjusted-EPS beat, and a pledge to restructure its U.S. bottling business sooner than expected. Coke's new bottling system will involve five bottling companies throughout the U.S., each with a focus on a particular region. This should help improve quality and efficiency, ultimately improving domestic sales. As the most valuable brand on the planet according to Interbrand, there's no reason, even here, to bet against Coca-Cola.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any 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.
The Motley Fool owns shares of, and recommends, Johnson & Johnson. It also recommends Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.