Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
After a three-day decline that knocked markets from all-time highs, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) ended in the green today as investors applauded a slowly improving jobs market. The four-week average for jobless claims fell to 335,000, a level not seen in nearly six years. On top of that, China's exports and imports both grew more rapidly than expected, a sign that the world's second-largest economy could already be recovering from recent growth hiccups. Encouraged by the new data, the Dow added 27 points, or 0.2%, to end at 15,498 Thursday.
Boosted by an analyst upgrade, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was the Dow's top performer, jumping 2.6% today. Evercore Partners raised its price target on Microsoft stock to $38 per share, which implies a 15% upside from today's closing price. Upgraded to an outperform, Evercore pointed out that Microsoft is becoming less reliant on the struggling PC market and more focused on business-to-business revenues, all while lowering its own expectations. Sometimes setting a low bar for yourself can be bullish, I suppose.
The construction and mining machinery behemoth Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) was another outperformer Thursday, adding 1.9% on the strength of China's trade data. China and Asia in general are vitally important markets for Caterpillar; the company has derived around 70% of its revenue from abroad in each of the past three fiscal years. Shares of Caterpillar frequently fluctuate with the health of the Chinese economy and the price of commodities, which can be great when commodities are expensive and China is thriving. That said, investors should be keenly aware of what they believe the longer-term trend in those areas will be before going Caterpillar-crazy.
The Justice Department and the SEC have been on a bit of a rampage recently, cracking down on allegations from insider trading to mortgage fraud. Many of the larger banks still have multimillion-dollar litigation cases that remain up in the air. Today, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) found out that it's the subject of a new investigation stemming from the financial crisis that could prove costly for the bank. Shares fell 0.9% on the news. Sources had initially said that the probe focused on mortgage bonds originated by Bear Stearns, which JPMorgan acquired in 2008; it turns out, however, that the questionable bonds were originated by JPMorgan itself.
Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) stumbled 1.1%, ending down for a fourth straight day. Intel doesn't have the luxury of diversification to the same extent that Microsoft does, and its reliance on the declining PC market is a worry to investors. The hope is that the growth of Intel data centers will be able to offset any PC weakness, but there's no guarantee as to how that will play out. Adding to Intel's woes is Goldman Sachs, which named Intel the fourth most overpriced stock in the market just two days ago.