Today's Best Dow Stock: Merck Goes From Laggard to Leader

Federal Reserve officials seem to be having a running internal debate about the efficacy and future of quantitative easing. Meanwhile, the markets seem to be reacting to that debate, and not so subtly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ran up 52 points, or 0.3%, to end at 15,387 following comments from the St. Louis Fed president praising the central bank's efforts. The bounce back from yesterday's losses was reflected by today's top Dow stock, which was Monday's worst performer.

Merck , which slumped 1.7% yesterday, surged 4.7% Tuesday on trading nearly three times its average daily volume. While big catalysts like whether the FDA will approve Merck's new insomnia drug loom in the near future, today's sudden rise was peculiar for its lack of definitive cause. Sometimes Wall Street doesn't reveal its logic -- and sometimes there's none to be had -- but what is certain is the popularity of health-care stocks Tuesday, as it was the top-performing sector.

Home Depot ended as the second-best Dow stock, rallying 2.5% on strong first-quarter earnings and pleasantly surprising 2013 projections. The home-improvement supplier's success helps to underline a resurgence in housing across the country. CEO Frank Blake even noted stabilizing sales in states like Florida and Nevada as they recover.

Property insurance company Travelers sank 2.2%, the most in the Dow, on the heels of a tragic tornado that ravaged parts of Oklahoma yesterday. The deadly storm, which was as large as two miles wide, tore through a suburb of Oklahoma City, leaving untold damage. Property insurers will face a surge in claims as the community rebuilds and recovers.

Lastly, Microsoft shares slipped 0.7% today, even after unveiling its newest gaming console, the Xbox One. Integrating voice-control, motion sensors, and video chatting ability, the device seeks to redefine entertainment in the living room. That's all well and good, but investors were clearly a bit peeved at the presentation's omission of one crucial feature: its price.

Can Merck beat the patent cliff?
This titan of the pharmaceutical industry stumbled into 2013 and continues to battle patent expirations and pipeline problems. Is Merck still a solid dividend play, or should investors be looking elsewhere? In a new premium research report on Merck, the Fool tackles all of the company's moving parts, its major market opportunities, and reasons to both buy and sell. To find out more click here to claim your copy today.

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