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Today’s Best Dow Stock: Merck Goes From Laggard to Leader

By John Divine – May 21, 2013 at 6:13PM

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Index ends at all-time highs, driven by Fed talk and a housing comeback.

Federal Reserve officials seem to be having a running internal debate about the efficacy and future of quantitative easing. Meanwhile, the markets seem to be reacting to that debate, and not so subtly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.02%) ran up 52 points, or 0.3%, to end at 15,387 following comments from the St. Louis Fed president praising the central bank's efforts. The bounce back from yesterday's losses was reflected by today's top Dow stock, which was Monday's worst performer.

Merck (MRK 0.85%), which slumped 1.7% yesterday, surged 4.7% Tuesday on trading nearly three times its average daily volume. While big catalysts like whether the FDA will approve Merck's new insomnia drug loom in the near future, today's sudden rise was peculiar for its lack of definitive cause. Sometimes Wall Street doesn't reveal its logic -- and sometimes there's none to be had -- but what is certain is the popularity of health-care stocks Tuesday, as it was the top-performing sector.

Home Depot (HD 0.43%) ended as the second-best Dow stock, rallying 2.5% on strong first-quarter earnings and pleasantly surprising 2013 projections. The home-improvement supplier's success helps to underline a resurgence in housing across the country. CEO Frank Blake even noted stabilizing sales in states like Florida and Nevada as they recover.

Property insurance company Travelers (TRV -0.06%) sank 2.2%, the most in the Dow, on the heels of a tragic tornado that ravaged parts of Oklahoma yesterday. The deadly storm, which was as large as two miles wide, tore through a suburb of Oklahoma City, leaving untold damage. Property insurers will face a surge in claims as the community rebuilds and recovers.

Lastly, Microsoft (MSFT 0.48%) shares slipped 0.7% today, even after unveiling its newest gaming console, the Xbox One. Integrating voice-control, motion sensors, and video chatting ability, the device seeks to redefine entertainment in the living room. That's all well and good, but investors were clearly a bit peeved at the presentation's omission of one crucial feature: its price.

Fool contributor John Divine has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @divinebizkid and on Motley Fool CAPS @TMFDivine.

The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot and owns shares of Microsoft. We Fools may not 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.

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