Stocks rallied again today as both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) hit record highs once again. There was no major financial news driving stocks higher, but comments from a well-respected hedge fund manager seemed to spark the bull run.
Billionaire investor David Tepper made remarks on CNBC this morning, saying he's still bullish on stocks, especially financials, despite all-time highs. While some investors seem to doubt that equities can continue to move higher, Tepper's words dispelled the naysayers, at least for today. Ninety percent of S&P 500 stocks have reported earnings this quarter, with 67.2% beating earnings estimates. However, only 46.9% have topped revenue expectations. The strong earnings performance could be a sign that businesses are growing profits from cutting costs rather than increasing sales, a warning sign for the economy. Modest improvements in the labor and housing markets have also helped drive stocks higher, but it may be hard for that to account alone for the 16% jump in the broad market.
Turning to Dow stocks, it's not surprising to see financials leading the way after Tepper's comments. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) led all comers, gaining 2.8% to hit a new 52-week high and was one of several banks Tepper said he was holding. Bank stocks may have also been reacted to news that the federal deficit this year will be less than expected after the Congressional Budget Office lowered its projection by $200 billion this year to $642 billion, the lowest level during the Obama administration. The CBO also said deficit levels should continue to decline for the next two years. The improved financial picture in Washington bodes well for the economy as a whole as well as for the banking sector, which is particularly sensitive to the macroeconomic environment.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) was also a big gainer, moving up 2.2%, after announcing it would release a free update to the much-maligned Windows 8. Windows 8.1 should be out in the next few months, and seems to be a step in the right direction toward cooling critics. Microsoft was also careful to emphasize that 8.1 was simply an update, not a brand-new operating system.
Just three Dow components missed out today's rally, among them UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH). Shares of the health insurer have bounced up and down in recent weeks amid concern over cuts to Medicare Advantage and other consequences of Obamacare. Today, the stock seems to be down on revelations that 2 million fewer Americans than previously expected will get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The original projection of 34 million had been reduced to 27 million in February and was cut down to 25 million today. The lowered forecast indicates that there were will be fewer new customers for UnitedHealth and its peers than formerly expected.