The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) on Wednesday finally lost some of its heat, falling 88 points as of 12:30 p.m. EDT. After such a strong rally, many traders have grown increasingly worried about the prospects for a sustained downdraft in the Dow; as the slow summer months approach, reduced trading volumes increase the opportunity for a rise in what has been historically low levels of market volatility. Moreover, on the economic front, global growth might be in danger of slowing, raising further doubt about the rise in international stock markets. Nevertheless, despite the dour mood on Wall Street, Merck (NYSE:MRK) and ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) posted gains today.
Merck's 0.6% gain comes as the stock continues to enjoy a honeymoon period after the company's aggressive buyout of hepatitis C treatment producer Idenix Pharmaceuticals. Spending almost $4 billion for a company that is almost entirely reliant on the future potential of treatments in early stages of the clinical trial process is obviously a large risk, but it's also a calculated move given the potential size of the hepatitis C market. Potentially even more valuable for Merck is the nature of the nucleotide-based treatment regimens, as giving Merck more expertise in the field could lead to treatments for other important diseases as well. Long before Idenix proves itself, though, Merck will have to find ways to maximize the value of its existing pipeline while perhaps seeking other acquisitions with more immediate positive impact on the company's prospects.
ExxonMobil rose half a percent as Brent crude approached the $110 per barrel mark and West Texas Intermediate climbed toward $105. The long glut of domestic oil appears to be dissipating, with inventories at the Cushing facility in Oklahoma hitting their lowest levels since late 2008 and the nationwide drop marking a two-month low. As unrest in Iraq threatens oil supplies and infrastructure, oil prices could continue to see upward pressure. In the near term, that could support Exxon's profits, although the oil giant also has to worry about prices rising so high that they threaten to bring on exactly the global economic slowdown that the World Bank and some other economists fear.
Even on a down day for the Dow, you can usually find stocks that buck the trend. One day doesn't establish a countertrend stock, but both ExxonMobil and Merck have strengths that make them worth a closer look for investors.