Investors are in a good mood this Valentine's Day, as stocks climbed to finish a strong week. The Dow Jones Industrials (^DJI 0.16%) were up more than 60 points as of 11 a.m. EST, as markets generally reacted favorably to word that consumer sentiment stayed unchanged in February despite weather-related impacts and other scary economic news over the past few weeks. Energy giant ExxonMobil (XOM -0.88%) led the Dow's gainers with a 2.1% climb, but the major telecom stocks suffered substantial losses, with AT&T (T 1.27%) down nearly 1% and Verizon (VZ -0.17%) dropping 1.5%.
For ExxonMobil, positive news today came from one of its natural gas fields off the coast of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The oil giant announced that it had started production in its Damar field, in which it holds a 50% joint-venture interest with a subsidiary of Malaysian oil company Petronas. With a capacity of 200 million cubic feet of natural gas, Damar could end up being well-placed strategically to deliver energy through Asia once the infrastructure to transport gas via LNG terminals becomes more extensive in the region. Eventually, similar finds around the world could transform the natural-gas industry, and Exxon's extensive natural-gas assets could help it benefit from the transformation.
Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon are both struggling as investors assess the potential impact of the new price war that is taking over the industry. Verizon announced its More Everything plan yesterday, answering previous price cuts from AT&T and other wireless rivals to try to avoid being perceived as noncompetitive. Recent events bear an eerie resemblance to the long-distance service price wars from more than a decade ago that pit AT&T against Sprint (S) and MCI -- which, curiously enough, was taken over by Verizon after MCI WorldCom's bankruptcy. Unless the telecom industry can resolve its differences quickly, fears of a potential long downward spiral could cause headwinds for shareholders for a long time.
In general, though, stock market investors seem content with the current path of the Dow. Although it will need to post further gains to convince some that the bull market is still intact, the blue-chip index has behaved well in bouncing from the worst levels during its small correction.