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Posted: April 2, 2013 11:15 a.m.

Stocks rise on strong auto sales, factory orders

 

The Dow Jones industrial average touched another record high Tuesday following strong reports on auto sales and factory orders, the latest evidence that the U.S. economy is strengthening.

Chrysler said it sold more cars and trucks in March than in any month since the Great Recession began, an increase of 5 percent. U.S. sales for General Motors and Ford rose 6 percent.

Orders to U.S. factories rose 3 percent in February, the best gain in five months, the government announced after trading began. The report also said January's decline in orders was smaller than previously reported.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 87 points, or 0.6 percent, at 14,659 as of 10:25 a.m. Eastern time. It rose as high as 14,665 shortly after the factory data were released.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose nine points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,571. The Nasdaq composite rose 25, or 0.8 percent, to 3,264.

Health insurance companies rose the most of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index, more than 1 percent. The boost came a day after the government released revised Medicare Advantage rates that suggest funding cuts will be less severe than analysts and companies had feared. The sector is up more than 16 percent this year.

After preliminary data were released in February, health insurers and industry analysts had warned that companies offering Medicare Advantage plans would be forced to cut benefits, increase customers' premiums or abandon some markets. This week's data suggest that may not be necessary.

UnitedHealth was the biggest gainer in the Dow. Humana Inc. led the S&P 500 higher. Also among the S&P 500's top 10 gainers were DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc., Cigna Corp., WellPoint Inc. and Aetna Inc.

Among health insurance companies, UnitedHealth rose $4.70, or 8 percent, to $63.67. Humana gained $6.99, or 9 percent, to $81.99. DaVita HealthCare Partners rose $8.03, or 7 percent, to $127.69. Cigna added $3.05, or 5 percent, to $65.96. WellPoint increased $2.91, or 4 percent, to $70.35. Aetna rose $2.05, or 4 percent, to $54.43.

Among the other companies making big moves:

— Hewlett-Packard plunged after a Goldman Sachs analyst downgraded the stock, predicting the company's earnings will be weak. Shares fell $1.35, or 6 percent, to $21.96.

— Urban Outfitters climbed a day after the clothing and accessories company said sales at stores open at least a year have grown in the high single digits in the first two months of the fiscal quarter started Feb. 1. Sales at stores open at least a year is a key gauge of a retailer's health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed. The stock rose $1.91, or 5 percent, to $40.32.

— Actavis Inc. rose after a U.S. court cleared the way for it to sell a generic asthma inhaler by declaring a rival's patent invalid. The stock added $4.07, or 4 percent, to $96.53.

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