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Dow, S&P 500 Close at Record Highs as Health Care Fuels Rally

Dan Berman
Hot Stock Minute

Wall Street set new records again today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a new intraday high of 14,684.49, before closing higher by 0.59% at 14,660.71. The S&P 500 rose 0.50% to 1,570.19. Both indexes set record closing highs. The market got a boost from health insurance stocks which rallied after an announcement on Medicare reimbursement rates. Also fueling gains was a report from the Commerce Department which showed February factory orders rose 3%. Much of the rise came from orders of aircraft. Orders excluding transportation equipment increased just 0.3%.

Humana (HUM) was one of the day's biggest gainers. Shares closed higher by 5%, adding handsomely to yesterday's climb of nearly 9%. The reason for the rise is quite simple: lawmakers now say they'll increase the payment rate for insurers who offer coverage through the Medicare Advantage program. That's a reversal of a prior decision. Even with the gains of the past two days, Humana is trading more than $10 below where it was one year ago.

Shares of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) took their biggest fall in four months, plunging more than 5%. The drop came as Goldman Sachs cut its rating on the company to sell from neutral. Analyst Bill Shope says sentiment about the company doesn't match reality. While he praises restructuring efforts, Shope says they're not enough to overcome weaknesses in Hewlett's-Packard's core businesses like PCs, enterprise hardware, services and printing.

Pinnacle Foods (PF) rose 1% today adding to steep gains over the past two days. The company first began trading on Thursday after shares were offered for $20 apiece. Pinnacle is the parent company of brands like Duncan Hines, Birdseye, Vlasic Pickles and Lenders Bagels. The CEO says he wants to use all the company's newly acquired cash for mergers and acquisitions.

Carl Icahn helped boost shares of Nuance Communications (NUAN) by over 5% today. A federal filing revealed yesterday that the activist investor purchased 29-million shares in the company. That's more than a 9% passive stake. Nuance specializes in voice recognition software. Earlier this year the company announced a venture with Hyundai to install voice systems in cars.