Dow Bounces Back as Obamacare and Shutdown Begin

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Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

On day one of the government shutdown and Obamacare enrollment, the Dow Jones Industrial Average moved up 62 points, or 0.4%, on hopes for a short-lived shutdown and a possible "buy the rumor, sell the news" effect. Today's gain was only the second in nine sessions, but seemed to reassure the market that a short-term shutdown would not be a serious threat. The broad-based S&P 500 finished even higher, with a 0.8% gain.

After several failed attempts last night to get the Senate to accept cuts to Obamacare, the House today moved to enter negotiations with the Senate but was swiftly rejected once again. The two sides appeared no closer to an agreement by the end of day, with both parties more anxious to pin the blame on the other rather than solve the problem at hand.

Meanwhile, enrollment in the new health-care exchanges kicked off, and while there were some technical problems, demand for the new health plans seems to have exceeded expectations. President Obama said that more than 1 million people had visited the federal site before 7 a.m., while New York reported more than 2 million visits in the first few hours its site was open. Other states reported visits in the tens of thousands. It's unclear how the new health-care law will affect insurers, and many of the larger providers have adopted a "wait-and-see" approach as they're wary of signing high-need customers who could be expensive. Health-care stocks were best-performing sector today as UnitedHealth and Aetna both gained 1.4%, while Wellpoint jumped 3%.

The Institute for Supply Management's September manufacturing index topped estimates, coming in at 56.2 against expectations of 55.0 and hitting its highest mark since April 2011. The report was just the latest piece of evidence that the economy continues to improve, while a CoreLogic report showed home prices continued to rise in August, up 0.9% from the previous month. Finally, September auto sales disappointed due in part to the early Labor Day weekend as they hit their lowest mark since April, coming in at an annual rate 15.28 million.

On the Dow today, Merck led all stocks, gaining 2.4% after the drugmaker announced a restructuring plan  that would include laying off 8,500 employees, or more than 10% of its workforce, and cutting $2.5 billion in costs. The pharma giant also said it would focus only on those drugs that had the best chance of gaining regulatory approval and making significant sales. The decision was clearly received well by the market, and follows a trend of making cuts in staff and research and development. JPMorgan Chase also issued a statement, noting the move should boost 2015 earnings.  

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