In the latest mark of the bull market's tenacious resolve, stocks managed to climb back from early declines this morning to post modest gains by the end of the day. A rise of 30 points for the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) wasn't a huge jump, but it was enough to set new record levels, and in light of disappointing jobs data this morning, any gain at all was a welcome sight after the average dropped 70 points right out of the gate. Broader benchmarks scored similar percentage gains, as markets didn't panic after St. Louis Fed President James Bullard pointed out that the drop in the unemployment rate brings the measure closer to the 7% level at which he believes the Fed would stop buying bonds.
Yet, one arguably troubling trend is that the biggest gainers reflect a level of speculation, as investor optimism about their future prospects nevertheless involves factors that are beyond their control. For instance, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) soared nearly 3% today, apparently on some speculation that Carl Icahn had bought a stake in the company. CNBC quashed that speculation by reporting that Icahn didn't own shares, but the sensitivity of stock prices to even the whiff of activist intervention signals the speculative fervor in the market. HP still has a long way to go before its turnaround story truly bears fruit, yet investors are bidding up shares as though it's a sure thing that HP will succeed.
Home Depot's (NYSE:HD) 2% gain reflects similar optimism about the housing market. The home-improvement retailer now trades at nearly 20 times fiscal 2015 earnings, expressing overall optimism about the durability of the rebound in the housing market. Yet, even though home prices have soared double-digit percentages over the past year, they've done so in what, until recently, was an extremely benign home-financing market. Now that mortgage rates have risen, home-buying activity could slow, and that, in turn, could force Home Depot to change gears once again in its ongoing efforts to navigate consumers' buying patterns for renovation and remodeling.
Finally, Disney (NYSE:DIS) rose 1.8% after speculation that large media mergers might be coming to the industry soon. With a Bloomberg report suggesting that Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR) could be a merger target of cable peer Cox Communications, the potential for cable giants to gang up could increase their bargaining power against Disney and its blockbuster ESPN franchise. At least in Disney's case, the appetite for content shows no signs of fading, and Disney doesn't need to make further acquisitions to shore up its already impressive lineup of media properties. Among these three stocks, Disney seems like the least speculative play of today's winners.