Monday, December 21, 2009

Deals, Upgrades Boost Stocks; NASDAQ Breaks Out

Led by news that Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) will buy retail health products firm Chattem (CHTT) for $1.9 billion and upgrades of key Dow components Intel (INTC) and Alcoa (AA) helped stocks kick off the short Christmas week with a bang.

Stocks soared right off the opening bell and held onto most of their gains through a somewhat listless session, though there was plenty of M&A news to keep participants interested. Besides Alcoa surging nearly 8% at the close, merger mania seems to have overtaken the health care sector, as pharma firms flush with cash seek to expand into the consumer market.

With the US senate voting to suspend debate on the health care bill, the major drug companies seem confident they have wrung the very best deal they could out of their congressional puppets. Many firms in the sector have been up sharply in recent days, including Dow components Merck (MRK) and Pfizer (PFE), considering the reform measure to be nothing more than bluster and Democratic party PR, void of substantive change. Thus, big pharma and health care providers will continue their rapacious plundering of the American people well into the next presidential cycle without a hitch.

Since US politics has been and continues to be largely held hostage by Wall Street, the pharmaceutical companies got whatever they wanted from a compliant Congress, meaning no real reform and no tax changes. It all adds up to business as usual for American medicine - the public pays, and if it can't, taxpayers foot the bill.

Dow 10,414.14, +85.25 (0.83%)
Nasdaq 2,237.66, +25.97 (1.17%)
S&P 500 1,114.05, +11.58 (1.05%)
NYSE Composite 7,147.15, +60.96 (0.86%)

Simple indicators affirmed the upside bias, suggesting further price appreciation for equities as advancing issues trumped decliners, 4503-2061, and new highs beat new lows, 499-94. Even though the dollar was higher against foreign currencies, stocks managed healthy gains, with all ten sectors advancing. Volume was slightly lower than normal, due to the closeness of the holidays, but not so poor as to suggest that traders were completely disinterested.

As the Dow and S&P were churning over ground already harvested, the NASDAQ broke out to new highs, as financial services and technology led the index higher. Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) all posted strong gains.

NYSE Volume 4,531,713,500
Nasdaq Volume 1,837,347,875

The commodity complex was buffeted by the rising greenback. Oil slipped 89 cents, to $72.47. Gold fell dramatically, below the psychological $1100 level, down $15.50, to $1,096.00, in a continuation of the pull-back from all-time highs. Silver responded in like fashion, losing 28 cents, to $17.04.

With just three more days remaining in the shortened week (plus, Thursday will be a half-session), Tuesday's trade is likely to be more tempered as the third and final GDP estimate for the 3rd quarter is released at 8:30 am and existing home sales data for November will be announced at 10:00 am. At the same time on Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will release new home sales figures for November.

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