Today's economic data certainly didn't seem to indicate the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) would end the day higher, but further commentary from the Federal Reserve outweighed all that news to push us higher yet again.
The "will they or won't they" debate is really starting to weigh on investors. Ever since the Fed commented that it would consider paring back its bond-buying program of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, we've been whipsawed up and down. Leading that volatility are investors' interpretations of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments, and the comments of his Fed governors, which are getting blown out of proportion in both directions. Today, the comments leaned toward keeping QE3 in place, which seemed to please the markets.
On the flipside, economic data wasn't horrific, but it wasn't good, either. First-quarter GDP was revised down 0.1% from its previous estimate of 2.5% to 2.4% and weekly jobless claims rose nearly 3% to a seasonally adjusted 354,000. Both figures would suggest that a slower recovery than wanted is occurring in the U.S. economy.
As I mentioned, when all was said and done, the Fed more than outweighed today's negative economic data and pushed the S&P 500 higher by 6.05 points (0.37%) to finish at 1,654.41.
Powering the S&P 500 higher were shares of solar-panel producer First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), which rose 6.6% after receiving an upgrade from Goldman Sachs to "buy" from "hold" with a price target of $64. U.S.-based solar producers like First Solar are starting to realize the advantages of their higher-efficiency panels, with import tariffs being placed on cheaper Chinese solar panels and a combination of oversupply and huge debt levels crushing China-based manufacturers. As long as subsidies remain in place for solar conversion in the U.S., you can expect alternative energies like solar to thrive.
Heading notably higher as well, up 5.5%, was medical-products supplier CareFusion (UNKNOWN:CFN.DL) which is said to be in talks as a possible acquirer of Britain-based Smiths Group's medical division. Although neither company would comment on a potential sale it would clearly be a positive for CareFusion since its revenue growth has stagnated in recent years. We should hopefully know more about these developments over the coming weeks.
Finally, storage-equipment maker EMC (NYSE:EMC) advanced 5.4% after expanding its share repurchase program from $1 billion to $6 billion by the end of 2015. The company commented that it plans to repurchase $3.5 billion worth of shares by the end of the second quarter of 2014. Furthermore, EMC also initiated a quarterly dividend of $0.10 to give the company a projected yield of 1.6%. While great news for shareholders and certainly a testament to EMC's amazing cash flow, it also signals to investors that its high growth days may be over.
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.
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