Full Speed Ahead: 5 Straight Months of Dow Gains

It's awfully tough to knock this market off track. Even after data today showed a surprising slowdown in U.S. business activity, Wall Street cheered on news that home prices and consumer confidence continued to rise. Though the Dow Jones Industrial Average's modest 21-point, 0.1% advance today isn't in itself anything to write home about, a fifth straight month of gains that has brought the index within reach of the 15,000 mark shows a determined bull market.

Technology stocks flexed their muscles for a second straight day, and International Business Machines ended as the top gainer, rising 1.7%. Shareholders cheered Big Blue's decision to boost its quarterly dividend by 12% this morning, a move that brought the annual payout to nearly 2%.

Microsoft joined IBM shares in gains, adding 1.5% as it keeps its momentum from Monday's 2.6% surge. Yesterday's gains came as the company announced it reached the landmark $1 billion figure in annual revenues from cloud-related services. Today's gains are likely due to another development in the technology markets: Just after Microsoft's $1.95 billion bond offering last week, news of a $17 billion bond issuance by Apple today shows a confidence in the sector that should reassure shareholders.

While tech may be showing signs of renewed strength, the mood just got a bit bleaker in the health-care sector. Merck slipped 1.7% ahead of its earnings report tomorrow. As is often the case, the dive was due to a poor showing by its rival Pfizer today that gave investors the jeebies. Although some recent developments -- such as the companies' deal to work together on a new diabetes drug -- remain promising, Pfizer's earnings disappointment overshadows all of that.

A brutal and sudden decline in patent protection for some of Pfizer's most lucrative drugs, combined with exchange-rate headwinds, caused Pfizer to lower expectations for the year. Shares tumbled 4.5% as a result, bringing Merck shares down with it.

The article Full Speed Ahead: 5 Straight Months of Dow Gains originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor John Divine owns shares of Apple. You can follow him on Twitter @divinebizkid and on Motley Fool CAPS @TMFDivine.The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. It also owns shares of IBM and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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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