While individual stocks typically move on company-specific news, when the major indexes make big moves, it’s usually due to macro events or economic data reports that give investors a snapshot-like view of how the economy is performing. Let’s look at what events and reports from last week helped push the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) higher by 328 points, or 2.17% — enough for the index to set a new all-time closing high on both Thursday and Friday.
Not a whole lot happened during the day Monday, but after the closing bell rang, Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) released its second-quarter earnings report to unofficially start earnings season. The aluminum producer surprised a lot of observers by slightly beating analysts’ expectations for earnings per share, though it missed on expected revenue. Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) isn’t be the bellwether it used to be, but many investors still look at the company for an indication of what’s to come for earnings season.
On Tuesday, we got some mixed news. First, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job-opening numbers showed a 1.4% increase in May. Companies are hiring, and the nation’s unemployment rate could soon begin falling. On the other hand, a National Federation of Independent Business report showed that small-business optimism fell in June. Small business is the backbone of the jobs market, but it’s possible the good and bad news combined to cancel each other out, in terms of any effect on stocks Tuesday.
Wednesday was a big day, with the Federal Reserve releasing its meeting minutes in the afternoon and seeming to confuse investors more than helping them understand the Fed’s plans. Half of the board members think the Fed’s quantitative easing program should end sometime later this year, while the other half thinks the $85 billion bond-buying should continue until we either see signs of inflation or a meaningful impact on the jobs market.
Chairman Ben Bernanke stepped in to clear things up during a press conference after the markets closed, saying there won’t be any changes to the Fed’s current stimulus programs without letting investors knowing when the changes coming — and he said that won’t be anytime soon. Those comments calmed nervous investors on Wednesday evening, and the markets reacted positively on Thursday.
Positive feelings about how the Fed will continue to stimulate the economy and push investors into stocks was enough to overcome a discouraging report on initial jobless claims.