The markets continue to shuffle through variations of the same storylines, and today the picture got even cloudier after Europe and earnings both punished the markets, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) down 0.82% and dropping the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC ) 0.90%.
Moody's downgraded its Germany, Netherlands, and Luxembourg outlook to negative, while manufacturing shrank even more than expected in July for France and Germany. The misery spread throughout Europe, as Spanish bond yields hit a eurozone high, raising concerns about the country's need for a bailout, and reports showed that Greece may need to restructure its debt further. The news in and of itself means little, but it legitimizes concerns of a European recession that could have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy.
In fact, it may already be starting to hurt U.S. earnings. Some quality companies continue to reduce costs to account for slowing revenue growth, but investors would like to see more signs of a blooming market landscape. And today's fall didn't even factor in that the world's largest company, Apple, missed badly on earnings.
UPS (NYSE: UPS ) stumbled nearly 5% after it missed earnings and reduced its economic outlook, leading the downslide. The company transports orders for different aspects of the economy, making it a great measuring stick for economic growth. Missing earnings hurt a bit, but the company still increased its EPS 7.5% to $1.15 year over year. The hammer came from UPS's slashing of full-year estimates and lowering of U.S. GDP expectations to 1% for the year, easily beneath most economists' expectations.
The company cushioned its losses much better than for-profit education company DeVry (NYSE: DV ) , however. Oppenheimer, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase all downgraded the company today, including a move from JPMorgan down to underweight. The company's fourth-quarter earnings preview caused the poor outlook for DeVry, even dragging down competitors such as Apollo Group. Long considered a strong play, DeVry sported EPS estimates of $0.46 that fell far short of previous expectations of $0.79, and revenue shrank as well.
But all the sour news couldn't sink telecommunications company MetroPCS (NYSE: PCS ) . The entire industry soared behind strong earnings reports from leaders AT&T and Verizon, increasing investor optimism that the company can offer even more good news when it releases earnings on Thursday. Macquarie upgraded shares of MetroPCS from neutral to outperform.
The investment climate is beginning to resemble an individual stock. If European problems disappear and the U.S. economy can stabilize growth, stocks could see incredible returns, at least based on the Dow's P/E of around 14. But on the other hand, the unstable market does mean an incredible amount of risk. So are the markets crying wolf?
For the smart investors, it doesn't really matter. No one knows how the macro landscape will take shape in the upcoming months, but quality companies will grow in the long run. Many of these companies even supplement this growth with dividends. So how do investors find the top performers? The Motley Fool's free report, "The 3 Dow Stocks Dividend Investors Need," identifies three stocks that will combine steady growth with consistent earnings. It's completely free, so get your copy before it's gone.