March has been good to blue-chip stocks. Since the beginning of the month, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has closed higher in every trading session. Assuming it does so again today, that will make it 10 straight days of gains. According to Yahoo! Finance, that adds up to the Dow’s longest winning streak since 1996. As of 2:55 p.m. EDT, the Dow is up 60 points, or 0.4%.
Today’s rally was fueled by news that the employment picture is continuing to improve. The Department of Labor reported this morning that the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week fell by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 332,000. The median estimate of economist surveyed by Bloomberg predicted an increase to 350,000. According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s generally held among economists that the labor market is improving when claims are below 400,000.
In terms of individual stocks, technology giants Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) are leading the Dow higher in afternoon trading, up 2% and 1.6%, respectively. As my colleague Dan Dzombak noted earlier, the British Serious Fraud Office recently opened an investigation into Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ)’s claims that U.K.-based Autonomy defrauded HP into acquiring the software company. Meanwhile, as fellow Fool Jessica Alling pointed out, International Business Machines Corp. is riding the waves of positive publicity related to its work for the city of Boston. In addition, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)’s strong presence in cloud computing and data analytics has positioned it well to exploit the opportunities that will inevitably spring up in the sector.
Heading lower, alternatively, are shares of retailing giants Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) and The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE:HD). Because there doesn’t seem to be a specific impetus for either of these companies being down today, it’s possible that they’re suffering by association with the likes of J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP) and Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ:SHLD), two failing industry giants. As three of our top analysts discussed earlier today, the former is hanging to life by a thread, while the latter is doing only marginally better.