With economic data taking a back seat for at least one day, a slew of better-than-expected earnings and strength from the financial sector -- which is often seen as the backbone of any rally -- led the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) to yet another record close.
Fears constrained the market yesterday that the Federal Reserve would soon pare back its bond-buying stimulus, which could have a negative effect on interest rates. However, the Fed has also stood firm in its stance of maintaining record-low target rates through 2015, which should help alleviate fears that a slowdown would soon follow the Fed's actions.
All told, the S&P 500 ended high by 16.57 points (1.01%) to close at 1,650.34. As you've probably come to expect, big gains in the indexes often lead to even bigger gains for some of its components. Here's a look at the three top performers today.
For-profit education company Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL), known best for its University of Phoenix campuses, rallied 9.1% after its University of Phoenix received a letter recommending the reaffirmation of its accreditation for another 10 years from the HLC Institutional Actions Council. Becoming accredited is the first step to getting funds from the government, so this is a big step at a time when government scrutiny over the actions of for-profit colleges is under close examination. Despite this news, I'd still keep my distance, with enrollments weak and the cost of a secondary education at many of these schools tough to justify.
Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE:EW), which makes surgical heart valve therapy products, rose 6.3% after announcing a $750 million share repurchase program and noting that its CFO, Thomas Abate, planned to retire by the end of the year. Edwards has had a rough year with the implementation of the medical device excise tax constraining its results and its Sapien heart valves growing by a slower-than-expected 25%-30% instead of the originally projected 30%-45%. This buyback program should help put a floor in shares over the interim, but Edwards certainly can't afford any more earnings disappointments if it hopes to retain its already pricey forward P/E of 20.
Finally, online trip advisory service TripAdvisor (NASDAQ:TRIP) took flight and advanced 5.9% after issuing a survey indicating that U.S. travel is expected to surge this summer. The poll determined that 86% of the some 1,200 people surveyed expect to take a leisure trip sometime in 2012, versus only 79% when this same poll was conducted last year. This would certainly be good news for travel review sites like TripAdvisor, but it could even be better news for third-party travel agents such as priceline.com (NASDAQ:BKNG). Priceline has had incredible success overseas and may need only a slight boost in domestic spending to continue to take market share from its rivals and head toward the psychological $1,000-per-share mark.