The Dow Makes a Very Bad Decision

On this day in economic and financial history...

Whenever the headlines trumpet Europe's troubles, warn of the impending (for how many years now?) collapse of the European Union, or breathlessly hype the next meeting of Europe's leaders as the precursor to salvation, you'll know that it all began on this day in 1993. The modern, single-currency European Union, with all its many imperfections and inconsistencies, was born on Nov. 1, 1993, when the Maastricht Treaty became effective.

The Maastricht Treaty bound the European Community closer together than ever before, creating a European central bank that would be able to direct monetary policy across the continent. However, the fledgling union faced many challenges on its very first day of existence. European Community president Willy Claes told The Washington Post that Europe had "no reason to celebrate" the new treaty, and he was right. EUwide unemployment, which stood at 8.7% in 1991, had risen to 11.5% when the treaty came into force, and economic growth had contracted in the first half of 1993. Tiny Luxembourg was the only member of the new union that met the Maastricht Treaty's stringent requirements for monetary union.

For all the worries over Europe's future, its unemployment rate has never reached 11% since the adoption of the common currency in 1999. That may change -- EUwide unemployment stands at 10.5% today, and regional GDP growth has been flat or negative for more than a year -- but the region's woeful performance in the early '90s provides a measure of perspective for those doomsayers expecting an implosion at any moment.

Coming to America (to build some cars)
Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) became the first foreign automaker to build cars on American soil on Nov. 1, 1982, when its Marysville, Ohio manufacturing plant welcomed employees onto the assembly line for their first day of work. Since then, Honda has become an increasingly American automaker: In 2011, more of its vehicles were built in the United States than were built in Japan.

Many other foreign automakers have since followed Honda's lead. Today, 10 foreign automakers combine to operate 16 major assembly plants across the U.S. According to a foreign-automaker trade group, some 34% of the 8.7 million vehicles built in the U.S. in 2011 rolled off the assembly lines of these plants.

The Dow's dot-com debacle
On Nov. 1, 1999, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI  ) made some extremely ill-timed changes to its component makeup. At the height of the dot-com boom, the Dow's management added Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , as well as Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) and AT&T's (NYSE: T  ) premerger business (while the original AT&T remained part of the Dow) in the form of SBC Communications.

Both Intel and Microsoft were nearing all-time highs when they joined the Dow. Intel reached its highest-ever market cap of $502 billion less than a year later, and Microsoft reached its peak before the end of 1999, topping out at an astounding $613 billion market cap on Dec. 27. Since Nov. 1, 1999, shareholders in both companies have seen the value of their holdings decline by at least 20% over the course of more than a decade, even when accounting for dividends.

Home Depot hasn't performed much better, as it took more than 12 years to return to its induction-day value. Only AT&T, boosted in part by SBC's acquisition of the original AT&T in 2005, has posted a net gain from its induction.

On the other hand, the companies that these four replaced have been something of a mixed bag as well. Union Carbide -- when counted as part of Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) , which acquired it in 2001 -- has lost 60% of its value since getting the boot. Goodyear (NYSE: GT  ) declined swiftly after its eviction and remains 68% below its price on Nov. 1, 1999. Sears Roebuck, bought by Kmart in 2005 and packaged into the Sears Holdings Corporation (Nasdaq: SHLD  ) , has a 23% gain since eviction, which is actually right in line with the Dow's performance since these changes.

Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , which was also removed in 1999 but rejoined the Dow in 2008, has gone on to post total returns of 269% since its original ouster, 142% of which came in the period between its 1999 eviction and its 2008 reinstatement. There's one component that never should have been kicked out.

The Dow has made a lot of changes over the years, but three of its best stocks have been long-term values for millions of investors, and the Dow's overseers wouldn't dream of displacing them. They have the combination of consistent growth and delicious dividends to boost any portfolio, and the Fool has an informative free report on why they might be the right choice for your next buy. Want to discover these Dow stalwarts' secrets? All you have to do is click here to find out more today, at no cost.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft and Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of The Home Depot, Intel, and Chevron. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic covered call position in Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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