American Express Spearheads the Dow's Final Gains of 2013

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.

On the final day of 2013, it's fitting that stocks are ending the year the same way they've performed since January kicked off: rising into the green and reaching for new record highs. The Dow Jones Industrial Average isn't shying away from crossing into the new year, picking up more than 33 points as of 2:30 p.m. EST.

All but a handful of the Dow's blue-chip stocks have pulled down gains today, with none making more out of the day than American Express . Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson's among the Dow's few stragglers, with the health care giant ending 2013 with a day in the red. Let's catch up on what you need to know.

Americans find their confidence
American Express' stock has jumped 1% today. The credit card giant received a boost early on when the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index jumped for December. American consumer confidence rose to its highest rating in three months following declines in both October and November, with consumers' future expectations in particular receiving a boost.

That's offering up rosy speculation about consumer spending in the new year, something American Express and its investors would welcome wholeheartedly. The economic recovery pushed this stock to among the best on the Dow Jones in recent years -- in 2013 alone, American Express ranked only behind Boeing on the Dow's board, gaining more than 57% year to date.

The surge of business has added up quickly for American Express as consumers have regained their footing. The company's U.S. card-based business climbed 8% year over year through the first nine months of 2013, with total American Express cards in force in America jumping 4% during that time and average card member spending climbing 5%. If consumer confidence continues to gain ground early in 2014, look for American Express' financials to follow it higher.

Johnson & Johnson's not having such a good day, as this diversified health care stock has shed 1% to lead the Dow's small contingent of laggards. Health care has been a big winner across the markets this year, and J&J's ranked among the Dow's top half of stock performers year to date despite today's fall. This company's still rising high and poised to keep churning forward in the new year.

With sluggishness out of Johnson & Johnson's medical device and consumer businesses as of late, the company's pharmaceutical division has taken center stage heading into 2014. Overall, total pharmaceutical sales through the first nine months of the year picked up by 10.6% year over year, with some of the company's top sellers extending their dominance with strong growth. Johnson & Johnson investors need to look to the future beyond cash cows such as Remicade, but with the drug's patent expiration still a few years off, this immunology therapy will still be a huge selling point in J&J's corner going into 2014.

Which stock will light the market on fire in 2014?
Johnson & Johnson's performed strongly this year behind its top-notch pharmaceutical division, but it's been only one of the myriad success stories across the investor world. The market stormed out to huge gains across 2013, leaving investors on the sidelines burned. However, opportunistic investors can still find huge winners. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has just hand-picked one such opportunity in our new report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." To find out which stock it is and read our in-depth report, simply click here. It's free!

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Fool contributor Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. 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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