Dow Morning Report: Merck and Exxon Jump, DuPont Drops

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.

The Dow Jones Industrials continues to reflect uncertainty about the prospects for the economy, with tepid growth in September factory orders again pointing attention to the timing of the Fed's tapering of quantitative easing. The Dow was flat just before 11 a.m. EDT, with Merck and ExxonMobil helping boost the average while DuPont dragged on the Dow.

Merck climbed 1.7% on news that its experimental HPV vaccine showed encouraging results in a phase 3 trial. The V503 vaccine prevented 97% of HPV-related pre-cancers from certain strains of the virus, and it also generated immune responses to several other HPV types. The vaccine could help Merck establish even more credibility in the HPV-treatment space, with its Gardasil vaccine already used in preventing outbreaks of the virus.

Exxon gained 1.2% in the aftermath of its earnings report late last week. Investors could see promise for a turnaround in the company's refining segment, which was responsible for the oil giant's drop in year-over-year earnings during the third quarter. With spreads between domestic and international oil prices again starting to widen, Exxon could see another turnaround in refining in the fourth quarter. If Exxon can keep its production on the increase, that could add up to sizable profit growth.

DuPont dropped 1.9% as investors continued to look at the potential impact of its spinoff of its performance-chemicals business. With titanium dioxide and other products from the segment diminishing in importance compared to the highly lucrative seed and agricultural products business, DuPont has clearly indicated a shift in strategic direction toward the higher-growth opportunity from the agribusiness side of the company. As long as the years-long boom in agriculture continues, that could produce larger profits for DuPont and make investors happy with the move.

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