Last week, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) jumped 207 points, or more than 1%, and set new daily closing record highs on three separate occasions. A host of favorable news helped lift the Dow, including a long-awaited decision from the European Central Bank to provide greater stimulus for the flagging European economy and a positive report on U.S. employment that signaled a continuing steady improvement in domestic growth. Among the biggest gainers in the Dow Jones Industrials were Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), and American Express (NYSE:AXP).
Caterpillar soared almost 6% as shares bounced back from previous bad news about its heavy-equipment business. Recently, Caterpillar has seen sharp disparities between its mining-equipment business and its construction-equipment segment, with mining getting hit hard by low commodities prices but construction starting to pick up a bit. Given the cyclical nature of its business, Caterpillar was among the biggest beneficiaries of the ECB's move Thursday to lower interest rates, as government infrastructure projects are one of the most obvious stimulative moves that can quickly boost levels of economic activity. Moreover, if the U.S. economy keeps firing on all cylinders, then the great need for infrastructure and construction enhancements on the domestic front could also help Caterpillar get through tough times in mining and head higher.
Goldman Sachs rose 4% as some financial experts speculated about the potential impact of the ECB's stimulus moves. The central bank said that it would explore moves similar to the Fed's quantitative easing program in the U.S., but one of the biggest obstacles to a successful round of bond-buying activity is that choosing bonds for purchase would require careful balancing of national considerations of sovereignty in order to avoid the appearance of country-specific favoritism. With its expertise, Goldman Sachs could advise relevant players in the European capital markets on how to develop and maintain a Eurozonewide bond market that would meet the needs of the ECB while avoiding any systemic risk stemming from the international implications of the shared euro currency. Better economic prospects in the U.S. could also boost Goldman's fortunes here as well.
American Express climbed more than 3.5% as the card giant took full advantage of its reputation as an international powerhouse. Even though AmEx is a financial stock, it has a hint of cyclicality from its exposure to spending habits, especially among upper-tier consumers that have the most influence in the luxury-goods markets. Although the Dow component's rivals also have global reach in their payment-processing networks, American Express has direct exposure to credit risk, and bolstering European growth should be a net positive for the company if it spurs greater travel and trade throughout the world. As payment systems evolve, American Express has kept itself at the cutting edge and should continue to do so.
Whether the Dow jumps to further records in the future is anyone's guess. But if it does, then watch these stocks to see if they continue to lead the Dow Jones Industrials higher.
Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Goldman Sachs. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.