Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
"Kick the can" is rarely a reasonable investing philosophy, but with Congress' back against the wall, and the United States' borrowing limit set to be hit in less than 36 hours, what choice did either political party have?
The broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) is absolutely surging today on news that the Senate had come to a bipartisan deal that should pass muster with the U.S. House of Representatives, and put an end to the ongoing government shutdown, as well as fund the government through February 7, 2014. While likely pushing off the chance of a near-term debt default, it also sets everyone up for failure, yet again, in less than four months, because the amount of time allocated to discuss pressing legislative issues like the debt ceiling hasn't mattered much over the past two years, and has frequently come down to the wire.
If there was anything negative to be said about today, it would be that the National Association of Homebuilders Housing Market Index fell to 55 in October from a reading of 57 in both September and August. It's tough not to still be excited about homebuilders' optimism, but it's clear that the sharp rise in interest rates since the May bottom, as well as the political indigestion in Congress, has taken some of the wind out of homebuilders' sails.
In spite of this slightly sour note, today was all about market strength. The S&P 500 wound up rising by 23.48 points (1.38%) on the day, to close at 1,721.54, its highest close in four weeks.
Leading all S&P 500 stocks to the upside today was medical device and generic-drug maker Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT), which advanced 6.6% after reporting better-than-expected third-quarter results, and boosting its dividend by 57%. For the quarter, Abbott's sales increased by 2%, to $5.37 billion, a hair shy of estimates, but EPS came in $0.04 above expectations, at $0.55. Diagnostics and nutritional product growth was a big key to Abbott's successful quarter, with both operational segments growing by roughly 6% worldwide. Perhaps even more exciting for shareholders is the 57% dividend increase to $0.22 per quarter, from $0.14. This move will vault Abbott's yield from just 1.6%, to 2.4%, potentially putting it on income investors' radars.
Sticking with the health-care sector, biotech juggernaut Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:REGN) added 5.9% after announcing that alirocumab, an LDL-cholesterol-lowering drug that is being developed with Sanofi (NYSE:SNY), met its primary endpoint in its first late-stage study. According to the top-line results, alirocumab reduced LDL-cholesterol levels by 47.2% in patients on the drug after 24 weeks, compared to Merck's cholesterol absorption inhibitor Zetia, which reduced LDL-cholesterol by just 15.6%. I'd certainly suggest waiting for confirmation from its remaining late-stage studies on alirocumab, but thus far, these results look very promising for both Regeneron and Sanofi.
Finally, oil and gas exploration and production company Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD) jumped 6.1% after receiving positive commentary from stock enthusiast Jim Cramer yesterday evening. Specifically, Cramer pointed out the enormity in projected yield of the Spraberry/Wolfcamp shale formations, and felt that Pioneer's growth wasn't anywhere near finished. As always, I'll remind you that analyst comments like this should be taken with a grain of salt, as they rarely have an impact on our long-term investing thesis on a stock. With that being said, at 35 times forward earnings, I'd either need to see a serious reduction in costs (which we pretty much know isn't going to happen anytime soon), or a sizable boost in spot natural gas and oil pricing before I could really get behind Pioneer at its current price.
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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