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Today was not a good day for the stock market. As Fool analyst Eric Bleeker explained in greater detail earlier today, Europe is still struggling to solve its problems, with the latest potential obstacle being whether the European Stability Mechanism can survive a challenge in a German court. Given the market's advances over the past several weeks, anything short of a complete victory could knock stocks for a loop. That uncertainty was partially responsible for today's drop, which, at one point, sent the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) below 13,000, and eventually saddled it with a loss of 107 points at the close.
But there were a couple rays of light amid the darkness. Merck (NYSE: MRK ) managed a small gain, with investors apparently seeing it as a defensive play, despite a report from McKinsey & Co. saying that the drug company may have a huge growth opportunity ahead of it. With annual health-care spending in China set to reach the $1 trillion mark by the end of the decade, Merck's deal last year with Chinese company Simcere Pharmaceutical to produce cardiovascular drugs could be just the first step in building a stronger presence in China. Still, tempering that gain may be news from Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT ) that an FDA advisory panel voted to approve its Humira drug for use against ulcerative colitis, a disease for which Merck has an alternate treatment.
On a similar theme, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) was up a couple cents, bucking the downtrend. The consumer-staples giant often performs well in the face of weakness in the overall market, as bearish investors look for stocks that won't see immense drops in sales or demand. Despite recent rises in raw-materials costs hurting margins, P&G has the pricing power advantage to keep the competition at bay.
Finally, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) didn't pick up ground, but it cut its losses to just 0.2% despite its Janssen subsidiary having to pay a $181 million settlement relating to legal claims concerning allegations of deceptive marketing of its Risperdal anti-psychotic drug. The settlement covers 36 states and the District of Columbia, and settles allegations that the company promoted off-label uses for the drug.
Steer clear of carnage
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