With the fiscal-cliff worries over until the U.S. hits the debt ceiling again and the Treasury can't do anything about it, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) will have a few days to relax until the next -- and arguably the most important -- driver of the stock market hits: earnings season. Next Monday, Alcoa will officially kick off the greatest time of the year by announcing its most recent quarterly results.
But as for today, the only real economic driver is the ADP jobs report, which showed that 215,000 private-sector jobs were created in December. Analysts were only expecting 140,000, so this was a welcome surprise to the markets. And with that, as of 12:40 p.m. EST, the Dow is up a mere six points, or 0.05%. At the moment, 12 of the Dow's 30 components are trading in the red. Three of the biggest losers are UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH ) , Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) , and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) .
So why are they down?
Shares of UnitedHealth have slipped 3.2% after the stock was downgraded by analysts at Deutsche Bank. The previous stock rating of "buy" was reduced to "hold." The cause for the downgrade was the belief that the spread between premium increases and self-funded medical costs would shrink in the coming year.
In business, when your competitor is performing poorly, it is typically considered good news for you. But when all your competitors perform the same, it's likely you'll go down with them. Yesterday, shares of Target (NYSE: TGT ) were hit hard after analysts bashed the stock, and today shares of Family Dollar (NYSE: FDO ) are getting crushed after the company posted lower-than-expected quarterly results. Worries that Wal-Mart may be the next discount retailer to take a hit is hurting the stock today: Shares are trading lower by 0.7%.
Shares of Microsoft are down 0.9% after the company announced that it was purchasing id8 Group R2 Studios, a technology start-up company which focuses on home and entertainment apps. Recently the company released an Android app which lets users operate their home heating and lighting systems from a smartphone.
More foolish insight
It's been a frustrating path for Microsoft investors, who have watched the company fail to capitalize on the incredible growth in mobile over the past decade. However, with the release of its own tablet, along with the widely anticipated Windows 8 operating system, the company is looking to make a splash in this booming market. In this brand-new premium report on Microsoft, our analyst explains that while the opportunity is huge, the challenges are many. He's also providing regular updates as key events occur, so make sure to claim a copy of this report now by clicking here.