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Stock Market Report For Week Ended October 24, 2014

Stocks see biggest weekly gain in nearly two years
The Standard & Poor's 500 Index recorded its best weekly gain since the start of 2013, as investors celebrated some better-than-expected earnings and grew more hopeful about the global economy. Poor results from IBM were partly to blame for the narrowly focused Dow Jones Industrial Average lagging the broader S&P 500, as was the Dow's exclusion of strongly performing Apple. The gains, however, brought both of the large-cap benchmarks within a few percentage points of their all-time highs. The technology-heavy Nasdaq outperformed the other major benchmarks. The rally also lifted the small-cap Russell 2000 Index out of what is commonly considered correction territory, bringing it within 10% of its highs earlier this year

Earnings surprise again on the upside
As usual, quarterly earnings reports from major companies brought both positive and negative surprises, but profits generally appeared to be growing faster than anticipated—a factor that drove market gains earlier in the year. Analytical firm FactSet increased its estimate of earnings growth in the third quarter for the companies in the S&P 500 to 5.6%, well in excess of the 4.5% expansion expected before the reporting season began. Surprisingly good results from the heaviest-weighted company in the index, Apple, fed into a rally Tuesday and helped establish a positive tone for the week.

Reassuring news on global economy boosts sentiment
Good news about the global economy also helped investors regain confidence following three weeks of losses. Stocks took another leg up on Thursday, after an array of data showed manufacturing activity increasing in China; Japan; and even Europe, which has demonstrated other signs recently of falling back into recession. Investors were also encouraged by reports that the European Central Bank was considering additional steps to boost growth in the region. U.S. economic data were generally benign. Investors were encouraged that existing home sales reached their highest level in a year in September, although new home sales did not grow quite as fast as anticipated.

Global threats cause a brief pullback
Other global threats kept investors on edge but did not seriously weigh on sentiment. News of a shooting at the Canadian parliament appeared to disrupt the market's advance on Wednesday, although a surprising rise of U.S. crude inventories hit oil stocks and may have also sparked the selling. Reports that a doctor in New York had contracted Ebola while working in Africa appeared to unsettle investors briefly, but the good news that the two Dallas nurses with the disease had apparently been cured may have helped calm some of the fears that dragged stocks lower the previous week.

Company-specific analysis may become more important
Investors' dual focus on earnings and the overall macroeconomic environment is unlikely to change anytime soon. Nonetheless, many T. Rowe Price managers expect that an individual company's earnings will become a more important driver of stock performance in the coming months. With the financial crisis and its dramatic policy response fading into the background, many of the factors that have taken stocks up and down in unison are likely to become less common—even if the markets are periodically volatile. T. Rowe Price managers also believe that careful fundamental research will be necessary to find opportunities, especially with overall valuations unlikely to expand significantly.

 

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