By Carlos Guillen
It is a great day for equity markets today as the macroeconomic winds have all blown in the same direction, serving to lift the Dow Jones Industrial Average close to 100 points.
The winds began to blow yesterday after the close of the trading session when the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it will increase the rate it pays health insurers offering the Medicare Advantage program by 3.3 percent in 2014 instead of cutting payments by 2.3 percent as previously announced in February. This news has lifted a number of healthcare stocks significantly, including Dow component UnitedHealth Group, which is up over 5.5 percent.
Also contributing to the uplifting winds was positive news from the euro zone. The first was that bailout conditions have been relaxed for Cyprus, as the nation has been given an extra year by its international creditors, or until 2017, to meet its budget targets. The second bit of new was that Markit's euro-zone manufacturing purchasing managers' index for March came in at 46.8, down from 47.9 in February, but above an earlier March estimate of 46.6. In addition, the euro zone jobless rate for February was in line with expectations at 12 percent, at least showing that the economic backdrop is stable.
Also serving to add to the market's enthusiasm today was that factory orders landed above expectations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, new orders for manufactured goods during February increased month-over-month by 3.0 percent to $492.0 billion, better than the Street's consensus estimate calling for a 2.6 percent month-over-month rise. Concurrently, new orders for consumer goods rose by 2.0 percent after increasing by 1.6 percent in the prior month, and non-defense capital goods (excluding aircraft) declined by 3.2 percent after increasing by 6.7 percent in the prior month. These orders are considered a proxy for future business investment in items such as computers, engines and communications gear, so its recent decline does not bode well for overall economic growth in the short term. Despite this, it is apparent that the U.S. economy is still slowly improving as the overall trends in economic data are still signaling expansion, and with continuing low interest rates, the backdrop for growth is till favorable.
Despite indications of a slight pull back from all-time intraday highs, the Dow is still on track to clock in all-time high closing price today ... that is if the winds don't suddenly shift direction.