Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK) Drops While Finance Lifts the Dow to New Heights

The markets are back on the upswing today as the Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to push on to uncharted highs. As of 2:15 p.m. EST, the Dow has recorded gains of 24 points, or 0.17%. Most of the blue-chip index’s 30 components are in the green, with several risers seeing solid gains on the day. However, the majority of stocks aren’t moving much on what’s turning out to be a sluggish day on Wall Street. Between positive economic data and optimism for one beleaguered aerospace firm, let’s check out the big news of the day.

Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK)Jobless claims lift the financial sector
Good news emerged from the Department of Labor today: Initial U.S. jobless claims declined to 340,000 in the past week. The six-week average for the jobless rate has now fallen to its lowest level since March 2008, and while employment may not be back to the highs of the pre-recession era, today’s news is a good indication of the economy’s forward progress. The government will release its monthly jobs report tomorrow, and all eyes will be watching to see if unemployment dips below the 7.9% mark set in January.

Financial stocks jumped on the news, and two of the Dow’s big banks are leading the way. Shares of Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) have risen by 1.9% and 0.7% respectively, to rank among the Dow’s leaders of the day. However, the big news for the financial sector will come later today: The Federal Reserve will release the results of the Dodd-Frank Act stress tests, which determine whether or not big banks have the capital needed to withstand economic upheaval.

Today’s biggest winner hasn’t come from finance, however. The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) has risen sharply due to news out of its ongoing 787 investigation drama. Shares of the aerospace manufacturer are up 2.3% after reports emerged earlier today that the FAA is likely to give Boeing the go-ahead to initiate battery tests of the 787 in days. However, the NTSB said that it’s still looking for the root cause of the aircraft fire back in January and that the investigation is far from over. Investors shouldn’t expect this saga to end anytime soon. Expect this stock to show further volatility in coming weeks as news emerges.

Big Pharma’s Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) has ended up on the wrong side of the Dow, leading all laggards downward with a 1.3% loss. The company today named Dr. Roger Perlmutter, the retired former chief of research at Amgen , as its new chief of research. Perlmutter enters at a time when many are questioning Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK)’s future, particularly with the patent cliff weighing on sales and the company delaying FDA filing of potential future blockbuster osteoporosis drug odanacatib. Perlmutter, who left Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) for Amgen years ago, returns now in a move many on Wall Street hope will advance the company’s efforts to develop stronger pipeline candidates.

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Fool contributor Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE:JPM).

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