After breaking up and down on differing jobs reports, stocks surged today as investors got the news they were hoping for from the Department of Labor. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 1%, with the S&P finally cracking 1,600, and the blue chips topping 15,000 before receding slightly to finish at 14,974.
The Labor Department said the country added 176,000 jobs in April, just 10,000 more than economists projected, but it also sharply revised up numbers from the previous two months. March's official figure was boosted from 88,000, to 138,000, while February's numbers jumped to 332,000, from 268,000. The drop from February to March may be, in part, an effect of sequestration. The unemployment dropped to 7.5%, from 7.6%, though the Labor Department said the number of unemployed was roughly the same.
Investors shrugged off some negative data points from other reports, as factory orders in March dropped 4%, and the ISM Services Index came in 0.9 points below expectations. Still, the employment report seems to indicate that the economy is continuing to grow at a reasonable pace.
Among the blue chips riding the jobs wave was Caterpillar , which gained 3.2%. There was no major news driving the gains for the world's No. 1 maker of earthmoving equipment, but it's one of the few Dow components to have missed out on this year's rally, and shares look cheap for an industry leader that seems to be on its way to putting the doldrums of the last two years behind it. Caterpillar is a macroeconomically sensitive stock; therefore, a strong jobs report will only add more fuel to its bullish fire.
JPMorgan Chase was not as lucky; it fell 1%, as the country's No. 1 bank by assets was once again put under federal scrutiny -- this time, for manipulating electric markets in California and Michigan. In a confidential document leaked to The New York Times, The Federal Energy Regulation Commission is investigating JPMorgan for a scheme that "transformed money-losing power plants into powerful profit centers," and that a senior executive perjured himself. JPMorgan has until mid-May to respond to the allegations, and the consequences are unclear at this point. Based on past experience, however, investors shouldn't expect anything more than a meaningless slap on the wrist from the government.
Outside the Dow, Berkshire Hathaway reported earnings after hours. Profits from the Warren Buffett-led conglomerate jumped 51% on strong performances from its insurance and railroad segments, and shares rallied 2% after hours. Insurance alone delivered a $901 million profit, while overall operating profit topped Wall Street expectations by 15%.
Caterpillar is the market share leader in an industry in which size matters, and its quality products, extensive service network, and unparalleled brand strength combine to give it solid competitive advantages. Read all about Caterpillar's strengths and weaknesses in The Motley Fool's brand new report. Just click here to access it now.
Copyright © 2009 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved.