The Institute for Supply Management this morning released its latest manufacturing purchasing managers reading. While economists expected a reading of 54 for March, the actual number was only 53.7, suggesting the economy is slightly weaker than most believe.
But following yesterday's comment from Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen that the central bank will continue to stimulate the economy for some time, the market may be rallying today because a mediocre economy means more stimulus for a longer period.
As of 12:45 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up 60 points, or 0.36%, the S&P 500 had risen 0.4%, and the Nasdaq was higher by 1.1%.
One Dow winner was Home Depot (NYSE:HD), as shares were up 0.7% in early afternoon. The stock received a boost today when UBS included in the home-improvement specialist in a list of the top five favorite retailers investors should be buying today. The other four were Home Depot rival Lowe's, Advance Auto Parts, O'Reilly Automotive, and Tractor Supply. UBS said Home Depot is a buy today because we are moving into the prime home selling season, which should help the retailer as homeowners fix up their properties before they sell and new homeowners remodel properties to meet their tastes. Furthermore, UBS said the National Association of Home Builders Remodeling Market Index, which measures how busy contractors are, was the highest it has been since 2004 during the second half of 2013, at trend many believe will continue.
One loser within the Dow is Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), as shares were down nearly a half of a percentage point. The company is continuing yesterday's drop after a Beverage Digest report indicated soda volumes again declined substantially in 2013. The biggest decline was seen with diet sodas, which represent nearly a third of all U.S. soda sales. While regular Coke sales fell 0.5% last year, Diet Coke slipped 6.8%, according to the report. This is a true indication that some consumers are becoming even more health conscious and now just say no to all sodas. While this is a big decline, investors shouldn't sell their Coke stock yet, but first allow the company to continue to diversify its offerings to counteract the soda volume decline.
Outside the Dow, Ford (NYSE:F) shares are up nearly 5% on sales figures for March. Ford sold 244,000 vehicles in the United States last month, up from 236,000 in March 2013. However, year to date the company has still only sold 582,000, down from 598,000 at this point last year. The good news is that vehicle sales seem to be picking up after the terrible January and February. Additionally, Ford said it believes that total U.S. auto sales will hit 16 million at an annualized rate, which many consider to be a very healthy figure for the auto industry.