Why the Dow's Sitting Flat After Yesterday's Rally

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One day after the markets boomed, Wall Street has quickly slashed gains, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has slid back into the red. As of 2:15 p.m. EST, the Dow has given up the morning's modest gains and is essentially flat at a six-point loss. Stocks are mostly in the red on the day, although one surprising winner has continued its strong two-day run.

Disappointment courtesy of the Fed
The Fed hasn't helped things late in the trading session. The Federal Reserve's minutes for the December Federal Open Market Committee meeting were released today, and while all members thought the bond-buying measure enacted in 2012 was working, the Fed also indicated that the program could ease or end in 2013. The release sent stocks into a tailspin and almost immediately wiped out the Dow's gain.

There have been some bright spots, however. For all its losses last year, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) has exploded out of the gate in 2013. The beaten-down tech stock leads the Dow with gains of 2.5% after yesterday's big rally. Over the last month, HP is up more than 16% and has spurred some investor optimism since it recently announced that it would consider cutting underperforming business units.

Manufacturers Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) have also continued their winning streak to start 2013, buoyed by the fiscal-cliff deal that prevented potentially recession-inducing budget cuts. While the industrial sector, which is tied heavily to the performance of the economy, will have to go through the political gauntlet again when sequestration comes up for review on Capitol Hill in just a few months, the deal provides a few more months of stability and a temporary respite for industrial stocks. For now, shares of Alcoa and Caterpillar are up 1% and 1.2%, respectively.

On the losing side, however, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) is pacing the Dow's laggards. Shares of the insurance giant have fallen 3.3% today following a Deutsche Bank downgrade from "buy" to "hold," spurred by pessimism over premium increases and medical-cost projections for 2013. The bank also downgraded fellow insurer WellPoint (NYSE: ANTM  ) .

Among the other top laggards of the day, DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) has seen shares fall 1.3%, while shares of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) fell 1.2%.

Caterpillar has certainly had a nice start to 2013, but will the rally last? The company is the market share leader in an industry in which size matters, and its quality products, extensive service network, and unparalleled brand strength combine to give it solid competitive advantages. Read all about Caterpillar's strengths and weaknesses in our brand-new report. Just click here to access it now.

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