Why the Dow Sputtered Lower Today

It was a slow and sluggish slog through negative territory for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI  ) this Columbus Day. While the index isn't running aground like Columbus' Santa Maria, it did edge lower by 26 points to start the week in the red. Let's check out what's behind the day's Dow details.

Bad news on the international front
With earnings season kicking off for the Dow tonight -- aluminum producer Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) is the first member on tap and recorded modest gains in advance of the announcement -- the markets remained cautious for most of the day. International worries heavily weighed in on the slight dip, as the World Bank's report released today projected slower economic growth for Asia and China in 2012. With China previously growing at or above double-digit levels in the recent past, a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy would hammer regional demand for many top corporations doing business there.

Concerns over the continuing eurozone crisis also weighed on investor minds, particularly after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, at a European meeting of finance ministers, said regarding downtrodden Spain, "The Spanish don't need an assistance program." That's a significant contrast to the feelings of many around the globe as Spain continues to reel from severe unemployment and a messy debt crisis.

A lack of booms or busts
Individual stocks waxed and waned unspectacularly, with few outliers across the board. UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) took the prize for the Dow's top winner on the day, with a gain of 0.8%. UnitedHealth merged with Brazil's top health-care provider, Amil Participacoes, to give the company a 90% stake in the Brazilian leader and form the largest health-care provider in the Americas. Given Brazil's low unemployment rate and strong economic growth -- the country's five largest health-care and insurance companies have increased 29% annually in sales over the past three years -- UnitedHealth stands to reap significant rewards with the deal.

Over on the losers column, Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) led all laggards in falling more than 2%. Poor economic news, such as this morning's international concerns, directly weighs on the industrials and housing sectors -- the latter a particular concern for this home-improvement giant. In rather unexpected news, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) joined the laggards and continued its recent slide by falling around 1.8%. The company's projections of disappointing earnings certainly haven't helped the stock. CEO Meg Whitman's comments last week regarding the company's tough road ahead to restoring growth have to make investors wonder whether this tech giant is on the right track for success.

Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) also fell more than 1% on the day.

Time to take action
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Dan Carroll has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Home Depot, UnitedHealth Group, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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