Today started out as a day of disappointment, as home prices fell sharply, raising new fears that the years-long economic doldrums may have further to run. Although consumer confidence remains steadfast for now, those numbers can turn on a dime. Yet somehow, the stock market pushed higher, and the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) finally closed above the much-anticipated 13,000 level, rising 24 points to finish the day at 13,005.
Even with the Dow's move up, not every stock joined in the celebration. Let's look at three of the Dow's losers today.
American Express (NYSE: AXP ) , down 0.8%
As I suggested earlier today, American Express owes some of its trouble to competition in the travel-services business. With priceline.com having posted strong results yesterday, AmEx needs to reinvent the way it delivers travel solutions.
Yet longer term, there's a lot of optimism about AmEx. Today, analysts at Credit Suisse said that they expect dividends and share buybacks to improve at a number of financial institutions, singling out AmEx as one of the best positioned to benefit from the trend. In that light, today's slight declines may represent a buying opportunity.
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) , down 0.2%
It's a tough time for Hewlett-Packard. With attention squarely focused on the Mobile World Congress trade show going on in Barcelona this week, HP has very little exposure to the mobile industry, leaving it looking like the odd player out among tech companies.
HP's main challenges are much longer-term in scope than a weeklong trade show, however. CEO Meg Whitman has to execute on a turnaround strategy, and she needs to do it assertively. If she can succeed where past CEOs have failed, then HP has plenty of room to rise.
3M (NYSE: MMM ) , down 0.3%
Weak durable-goods data didn't do 3M any favors today. But longer term, the company has a much bigger threat to contend with: pension liabilities.
A Bloomberg report highlighted the specific problems 3M faces. Despite contributing $680 million and seeing pension plan assets rise to $12.1 billion, 3M's pension shortfall tripled to $2.4 billion because of lower interest rates that boosted the company's pension obligation projections. As a result, the company sees its 2012 pension contribution rising to as much as $1 billion. That could hurt earnings going forward -- as long as low interest rates last.
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