It’s truly been a bizarre day, with the broad-based S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) rallying in excess of 1% after economic data came in worse than expected.
Under normal circumstances, the markets would sell off on news that the U.S. Commerce Department made a downward revision to its final first-quarter GDP growth figure. Instead of the previous estimate of 2.4% growth, the U.S. economy grew by just 1.8% during the quarter. Again, that would normally send investors scurrying for cover; but with the Federal Reserve tinkering with the idea of paring back its monthly bond-buying program known as QE3, it’s all the more reason for the Fed to continue with its monetary easing. A continuation of QE3 would probably mean extended low lending rates, which should spur enterprise loan activity and housing sector expansion.
When all was said and done, the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) added on 15.23 points (0.96%) to close at 1,603.26. While today’s move higher was impressive, the gains of the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX)’s top performers were even more noteworthy.
Audio products and electronics maker Harman International Industries Inc./DE/ (NYSE:HAR) was today’s top breadwinner, up 5%, following an announcement that it would be doubling its quarterly dividend from $0.15 to $0.30. The new projected yield of 2.3% moves it into a territory where income-seeking investors may actually give the company a serious look. Harman International Industries Inc./DE/ (NYSE:HAR) definitely had to do something because net sales shrank 3% last quarter as competition intensified and automotive sector sales slowed from their rapid recessionary rebound. I’m still not personally sold on Harman International Industries Inc./DE/ (NYSE:HAR) even after this dividend hike, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Orphan drug developer Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ALXN) was also a strong gainer, bringing home a 4.9% advance for shareholders in spite of no company-specific news. Although Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ALXN) has just one FDA approved drug, Soliris, it’s been able to command an incredible pricing premium – about $400,000 for a year of treatment – and could further expand indications of the drug to boost its revenue stream further. Even though Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ALXN) has a robust five-year growth expectation of 24.5%, I’d exercise caution here with Soliris representing its only FDA-approved drug and practically its entire pipeline. One-drug biotech companies come with a lot of extra risks that diversified biotech companies do not possess, and Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ:ALXN) certainly isn’t cheap at 64 times trailing earnings.