Driven by robust data from the housing market and anticipation of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments tomorrow, markets surged for a second straight day on Tuesday. Housing starts climbed nearly 7% in May to an annualized pace of 914,000, from a rate of 856,000 in April. It was the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (DJINDICES:^DJI) sixth straight session of triple-digit movements, with GE stock ending as the standout performer. The Dow closed the day up 138 points, or 0.9%, at 15,318.
General Electric (NYSE:GE), which added 2.4% today, surged higher as the corporate giant announced a partnership with Amazon Cloud Services and embarks on ambitious new efforts to change the way industry itself is run. The "Industrial Internet," or "Predictivity," will measure, via sensors, the efficiency and usage patterns of important machines in the industrial process. Not only should GE benefit from this platform, but making it commercially available to other companies will enable progress across the board.
Another outperformer, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH), tacked on 2% as a nationwide campaign ramped up to educate and enroll currently uninsured individuals in nearly 20 states across the country. The efforts aim to encourage people to get coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which could boost UnitedHealth's customer base. The stock reached 52-week highs during trading today as Deutsche Bank boosted its price target on the shares.
One may be the loneliest number, but only two stocks in the entire Dow declined today, and having a companion to lose with probably wasn't much consolation for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) investors, as shares lost 0.1%. Of course, that isn't a dramatic decline, but you can understand one reason shareholders may be unimpressed: Microsoft's tablets aren't selling. The company is going so far as to offer K-12 and higher-education institutions Surface tablets for more than half off if they buy before September. Having sold fewer than 1 million Surface tablets in the first quarter after making between 3 and 5 million late last year, some desperation discounts are in order.
Lastly, drugmaker Merck (NYSE:MRK) saw its stock shed 0.1% today as well, as shares lost ground for a second straight session. The Supreme Court isn't helping matters, as the high court ruled the Federal Trade Commission could sue pharmaceutical companies that pay off generic drugmakers to delay their launches. Companies that used these payments, known as "reverse payment settlements," can be sued for violating antitrust laws. The ruling likely means that companies like Merck will face increasing competition from generics moving forward.