The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) continues to nudge higher today, and shortly before noon its 0.4% gain put the index within striking distance of the all-time closing high of 16,576.66 set on the last day of 2013. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) was also up 0.4% at lunchtime, hitting a record high of 1,884.60; it remains to be seen whether this new record will hold up for the rest of the day, as both indexes have been slipping from an early peak. The S&P's last record was 1,878.04 points, set in early March.
The big news today came from the Institute for Supply Management's factory-activity index, which continues to show expansion (a reading over 50) with a 53.7 reading for March, above February's result of 53.2. Markit's Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index fell to 55.5 in March from 57.1 in February, but that's still solidly in expansionary territory. Automakers Ford and Toyota both reported good monthly sales growth for March, with respective upticks of 3.4% and 5%.
The Dow's components are wavering between strength and weakness heading into the afternoon, with several trading near breakeven and 13 of the 30 components in the red. The Dow's early leader is Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), which was trading up 1.9% at lunchtime, while Disney (NYSE:DIS) was hot on Cisco's heels with a 1.5% gain. Neither stock is trading on any real news, although Cisco Vice President of Corporate Technology Maciej Kranz promoted the company's Internet of Things initiatives earlier this morning at a tech conference in Boston. Disney's Frozen recently became the top-grossing animated film of all time, and the entertainment conglomerate is also in the news for its acquisition of YouTube-native Maker Studios, which could cost nearly $1 billion if the deal's earn-out targets are reached. One of those news bites is noteworthy, but the other appears merely buzzworthy at first glance.
Approximately 300 of the S&P's 500 stocks were in the green today, and none was enjoying a bigger pop than robotic-surgery pioneer Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG). Intuitive's 8.2% gain is nearly double that of the second-best-performing S&P 500 component, and this pop does have good news behind it -- the FDA approved a new da Vinci surgical robot that is more advanced than earlier versions. Intuitive CEO Gary Guthart was cited in the company's press release as saying, "The da Vinci Xi System's new overhead architecture means that multi-quadrant surgery can be performed without repositioning the system, an innovation long sought by surgeons who perform complex procedures."
This new da Vinci could result in "at least 575" new system sales, according to ISI Group analyst Vijay Kumar. That's no chump change for Intuitive, which has an installed base of roughly 2,585 da Vinci systems at costs ranging from $1 million to $2.3 million apiece, not including service agreements, accessories, and instrument costs.