UnitedHealth Dashes, HP Crashes


The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 touched new record highs today led by the health-care sector, which jumped following a surprise increase in Medicare Advantage payout rates.

The Dow crossed 14,600 for the first time, gaining 0.6% or 89 points, to finish at 14,662. After hours yesterday, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services reversed earlier signals that it would lower Medicare Advantage payouts by 2.2% and instead decided to raise them 3.3%. Not surprisingly, health-insurance stocks rallied across the board, with UnitedHealth Group gaining 4.7% to lead all Dow stocks. Humana, which is heavily dependent on Medicare payouts, jumped 5.5%, and Aetna gained 3.7%.

Factory orders for February were also better than expected, increasing 3% on expectations of 2.6%. January orders were also revised upward from -2% to -1%. On a similar note, auto sales from the Big Three hit their best sales level in five years in March on higher demand for fuel-efficient vehicles and pick-up trucks.

Not all stocks made headway today, though. Hewlett-Packard sank 5.2 % after Goldman Sachs downgraded the PC-maker to "sell" from "hold." The investment bank said HP may be overbought after its recent run-up, adding that investors may be overly hopeful for a turnaround, considering its key PC and printer businesses continue to decline. Goldman also that HP will have to invest much of its cash flow in research and development, putting a further strain on profits.

Elsewhere, Procter & Gamble moved up 1.6% after the consumer-goods giant said it had achieved zero waste in 25% or 45 of its manufacturing facilities worldwide, with another 20 soon to meet the sustainable standard. P&G now uses 99% of materials that enter its factories, and the news serves as a reminder that P&G continues to innovate and lets consumer know they can feel good about buying P&G products.

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Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Procter & Gamble and UnitedHealth Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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