Stocks made it three-for-three this week as the S&P 500 closed at a record high for the second day in a row, climbing 0.3% to close at 1,890. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI), meanwhile, gained 40% or 0.2%, finishing the session at 16,573, just three points short of its record closing high on the last day of 2014.
A strong employment report from ADP helped lift the market as the payroll processor said 191,000 private sector jobs were added in March and revised its February tally up from 139,000 to 153,000. Analysts had actually expected ADP to report 195,000 jobs were added last month, but the numbers were encouraging nonetheless, coming after a winter that froze the economic recovery. The data also bodes well for the official jobs report from the Department of Labor coming out Friday. Analysts are estimating the agency will report 195,000 new jobs were added last month. In a separate report, factory orders increased 1.6% in February, better than the 1.1% pace expected and its strongest mark since September.
Among Dow stocks moving higher today was Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), which jumped 2.8% today as it defends its tax-avoidance practices in front of Congress this week. The heavy-equipment maker responded to allegations from a Senate subcommittee that said it has avoided $2.4 billion in taxes over the last 13 years by moving profits to a Swiss affiliate without transferring employees or business activities. Executives defended the practices, saying that "business practices drives our tax structure," not the other way around. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took the opposite tack from Democrats in grilling the multinational manufacturer, going as far to salute Caterpillar for its strategy and success as an iconic American business. "We should probably give Caterpillar an award," he said. "It is a requirement that you try to minimize your costs. So rather than chastising Caterpillar we should be complimenting them." Caterpillar is just one of many blue chips that's been hauled before Congress to defend its tax strategy. Investors seemed to like the results of the hearing based on the stock's gains.
Also gaining despite Congressional testimony today was General Motors (NYSE:GM). Shares of the carmaker finished up 1.6% even as lawmakers were grilled on why a recall on vehicles nearly 10 years old didn't happen sooner. New CEO Mary Barra had no answers for the negligence, saying an internal report due out within two months would provide explanations, but said the company has taken steps to ensure vehicle safety. Although the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter, investors seem to believe that the company won't face severe consequences, bidding shares up today.