Stocks rebounded from Monday's one-day slide, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index touching fresh all-time highs before easing slightly, fueled by strong factory orders and still-improving auto sales. Most industry sectors in the S&P 500 ended higher, led by shares of healthcare and consumer staples companies. Resource stocks struggled, particularly shares of mining companies, after gold and other precious metals slid to multi-month lows as traders streamed into equities. Industrial stocks also lagged despite the positive factory data.
U.S. factory orders rose 3.0% in February, recovering from a 2.0% drop in January and exceeding the 2.9% rise forecast by analysts. March auto sales also impressed, with Ford (F) shares climbing about 1.2% after posting a 5.7% year over year sales rise for the month, topping estimates for 3.8% advance. General Motors (GM) also finished higher, climbing about 1%, despite a 6.4% rise in March sales that lagged expectations for an 8.8% gain.
General Motors described the month as its best March in five years, selling 245,950 vehicles overall. Ford said it was the company's best month since May 2007. Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) reported a 1% rise to 205,342 units with an 8.7% gain for Q1 over the first three months of 2012.
Health insurers also rallied after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid reversed prior decisions on reimbursement rates, agreeing now to raise the amounts paid to insurers. Humana Inc. (HUM) was up more than 6% in late trading while UnitedHealth Group (UNH) added nearly 5% and Aetna (AET) rose almost 5%. Cigna (CI) gained 3.5%.
Commodities finished mostly lower. Crude oil for May delivery reversed early declines to settle 12 cents higher at $97.19 per barrel. May natural gas fell 4 cents to end at $4.02 per 1 mln BTU. April gold slid $24.90 to $1,575.10 per ounce while May silver lost 70 cents to settle at $27.25 per ounce. May copper also turned around initial declines to settle 0.5 cents higher at $3.38 per pound.
Here's Where The Markets Stood At Day's End
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