Stocks ended flat today with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing down 27 points, or 0.2%, as investors seemed unsure of how to react to news that the Fed may end its stimulus program. According to The Wall Street Journal, the central bank has devised a plan for bringing its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program to a close, and would decrease the amount of stimulus in steps as the job market improves. In recent quarters, the Fed's signals that it would continue the bond-buying program have helped pump up stocks so the program's termination could be a negative sign. However, the Fed has not yet set a date for when it would begin taking such steps.
Elsewhere, April retail sales came in better than expected, perhaps mitigating the blow from the Fed report. Consumer-level sales improved by 0.1% last month instead of the 0.3% drop expected. Exempting gas purchases, which were down on lower gas prices, April saw the biggest gain in four months.
On the Dow today, Pfizer led all blue chips, gaining 2.3% after announcing this morning that it would present 11 different abstracts for its Tofacitinib drug, or Xeljanz, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis at a conference in June. Pfizer also said analyses have further shown the safety and efficacy of the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The drug, which is in phase 3 trials, could help the pharma giant recover from the patent cliff it recently went over when it lost exclusivity on Lipitor.
The biggest loser on the Dow today was Alcoa , which fell 2% as its shares reacted to industrial production numbers in China. Economists had expected a 9.5% growth in the category against an actual figure of 9.3% in April. Spending, specifically in construction and infrastructure, also grew more slowly than expected. China is a major market for the aluminum maker and lower-than-expected growth could force aluminum prices down further.
Finally, JPMorgan Chase shares were up 1.5% as rumors swirl that CEO/Chairman Jamie Dimon could leave the company if he's removed from the chairmanship, as some major shareholders have called for on behalf of corporate governance. Dimon recently suggested as much according to sources, but shares gained strength late in the morning as a number of analysts and fund managers took to his defense. Among them was Mike Mayo of CSLA, who said the bank's shares could drop as much as 10% if Dimon exits and pointed out that there's no obvious replacement for him. The vote on Dimon's status as chairman will take place on May 21 at the bank's annual shareholder meeting.
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