As of 11 a.m. EDT Thursday the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) had regained 45 of the points lost yesterday in the wake of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen's surprising comments about possible future interest rate policy. Even as markets struggled to digest the idea that interest rates could rise as soon as mid-2015, positive economic news from the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index showed early signs of growth, and weekly jobless claims rose less than initially expected. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and AT&T (NYSE:T) were the biggest gainers in the Dow.
Where the economy's headed
The Conference Board reported that its Leading Economic Index rose 0.5% in February, with the implication that economic growth should return in full force by the second half of 2014. Five of the 10 indicators that the Conference Board looks at rose during the month, with the spreads between short-term rates and 10-year Treasury yields contributing the most to furthering future economic growth. But strength in building permits also provided substantial lift to the index, as did the Conference Board's Leading Credit Index, which is designed to be an indicator of financial market activity.
Yet some factors pushed the index down. Average workweek figures were somewhat disappointing, and consumer expectations for business conditions were moderately weaker as well. Moreover, with the stock market's tepid performance so far in 2014, stocks didn't provide the boost that they did during 2013.
In part because of this economic optimism, strong performance from several corners of the Dow helped push the average up this morning. Indications of stronger activity in the financial arena led JPMorgan up 2.3% toward a new yearly high, and the sale of its physical commodities business should provide more capital for its upcoming stress tests and the ability to focus more on its core business. Similarly, AT&T, up 2.4%, is in a position to deliver solid dividend income in an environment where investors are becoming less comfortable with prospects for stock markets generally, especially given the big gains experienced over the past five years.
As long as the economy recovers from its winter blues, select stocks have room to run higher. But as the bull market ages, you can expect investors to get pickier about which stocks will make the cut.