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.
As often happens on the first trading day of the month, the stock market has posted strong gains to begin September. News from Verizon and Microsoft of big acquisitions has helped raise investor confidence about the health of corporate America, and even though Microsoft plunged more than 5% and Verizon fell more than 3% on the news, many commentators saw the deals potentially boosting their stocks' long-term prospects. As of 10:45 a.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) were up 87 points, bouncing back somewhat from an August swoon that saw the average lose more than 4%.
Yet the prospect of more mergers and acquisitions in the future wasn't the only thing helping to push the markets up today. Strong readings from the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing-sector index provided evidence that manufacturing activity is expanding, helping allay concerns about a potential economic slowdown. Construction spending also jumped in July as the trend of private-sector activity in homebuilding and commercial construction took the place of less sustainable government-sector activity.
Strangely enough, those positive sentiments didn't show up in every construction-related Dow stock. Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) is flat this morning. But remember that while Caterpillar gets a substantial amount of business from the U.S., it also needs greater activity in key international markets like China in order to thrive. The Chinese stock market has managed to rebound somewhat from its June lows, but for a true recovery, Caterpillar would need to see higher commodity prices support the mining industry, as well as increased construction activity worldwide.
Yet positive signs did show themselves in shares of United Technologies (NYSE:UTX), which lead the Dow higher with a nearly 3% gain. Given the conglomerate's exposure to both the civilian and military sectors, United Tech has gotten some investor interest from the heightened tensions in Syria, which could lead to a protracted reversal in defense-spending cuts if President Obama and Congress agree to the use of force in the Middle Eastern nation. Yet commercial businesses like United Tech's Otis elevator and Pratt & Whitney engine segments are providing strong growth tailwinds as well.
Finally, financials have performed well, with JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) climbing 2% and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) posting gains of more than 1.7%. For B of A, selling off its stake in China Construction Bank marks the latest in a series of asset divestitures designed to strengthen the bank's balance sheet and refocus its attention on its core domestic-banking business. Perhaps more important for both JPMorgan and the entire financial sector, though, is the fact that greater levels of merger and acquisition activity could spur further fees from investment bankers, helping to provide a boost in what had been a relatively quiet corner of the market given the relative slowdown in IPO activity.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger owns warrants on Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.