It's a topsy-turvy world for investors right now. Despite downbeat economic news out of both Europe and the United States, blue-chip stocks are extending their rally. With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) is up by 15 points, or 0.1%.
Data released this morning showed that Europe has experienced six consecutive quarters of recession -- the continent's longest downturn ever. According to the European Union, nine out of the 17 countries in the economic bloc are experiencing contractions in their output. The latest addition to the list is France, whose gross domestic product fell by 0.2% compared with the fourth quarter of last year. On an annualized basis, that equates to a decline of 0.9%.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the news was equally disappointing. Among other things, industrial production declined last month by more than expected, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Empire State Index dropped into negative territory this month for the first time since January, and the Department of Labor released statistics showing that wholesale prices fell in April by the largest amount in three years.
The silver lining in all of this otherwise dismal news is the belief that the reports will dissuade the central bank from prematurely retreating from its third round of quantitative easing. Since last year, the Fed has purchased $85 billion in Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities in an effort to drive down interest rates and spur lending (and thereby a more robust economic recovery). While the impact on the actual economy is more muted, there's no question that the added liquidity has fueled equity prices, leaving some to wonder whether a new bubble is forming.
In terms of individual stocks, shares of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) are among the best-performing on the Dow, up by 1.2% at the time of writing. The nation's largest bank by assets is facing a critical shareholder vote next week about whether to separate the roles of chairman and chief executive officer. At present, Jamie Dimon occupies both, though he recently intimated that he would leave the company if obligated to relinquish either position. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that an early estimate of the results is "running slightly ahead of the 40% it received last year."
Alternatively, the worst-performing stock on the blue-chip index is Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) , shares in which are off by 3.3% in mid-afternoon trading. As my colleague Dan Carroll observed earlier, the technology giant is struggling today despite the announcement of its new Android-based tablet, the SlateBook x2. "It's an innovative twist for HP," noted Dan, "which is looking to follow up on its Slate 7 tablet ... as well as a sign that the company's genuinely pushing to be competitive in the mobile industry as its PC sales nosedive."
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