American Express Racks Up Returns

The Dow is tanking today thanks to some weaker-than-expected economic reports. As of 1:15 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is down 93 points, or 0.67%, to 13,893. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) is down 0.6% to 1,503.

There were two U.S. economic releases this morning:

Report

Period

Result

Previous

Weekly initial claims for unemployment

Jan. 27 to Feb. 2

366,000

371,000

Productivity

Q4

(2%)

3.2%

Source: MarketWatch U.S. Economic Calendar.

This morning the Department of Labor reported that new initial claims for unemployment fell by 5,000 to 366,000. That missed analyst expectations of a drop to 360,000 but nonetheless lowered the four-week average to 350,500. In mid-January claims plummeted to a five-year low of 330,000, but that's beginning to look like an anomaly.

US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance Chart

US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance data by YCharts.

The big miss today was the productivity report, which showed that productivity dropped at an annual rate of 2% after growing 3.2% in the previous quarter. Analysts had expected a drop of 1.5%. It was known that output growth would be weak, as GDP was actually down 0.1% in the fourth quarter. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that output growth was 0.1%, while hours worked rose 2.2%. Overall for the year, productivity increased 0.6%, with a 2.4% rise in output and a 1.8% rise in hours worked.

Given the negative economic reports, 27 of the 30 Dow stocks are down, with only American Express, Boeing, and Coca-Cola in the green today.

Today's Dow leader
Today's Dow leader is American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) , up 2.3%. Yesterday American Express' CEO and Chairman, Kenneth Chenault, gave a presentation at the company's semiannual Financial Community Meeting. In the presentation, Chenault disclosed previously nonpublic information on the company's international results for 2012, which showed that total revenue net of interest expense for the company's international business operations rose 2% year over year from $9.3 billion to $9.5 billion. While American Express doesn't send out its annual report until the end of the month, two weeks ago the company filed its fourth-quarter earnings report, which was worse than expected. Fool analyst Jessica Alling laid out five reasons to not worry about American Express' earnings.

Given the past week's wild swings, investors seem nervous. It's been a great five-year run for investors, with the Dow and S&P at or near all-time highs, yet fears abound. When will the next downturn hit? Will political gridlock lead to portfolio-killing inflation? To learn how to protect your portfolio, click here for free guidance from the Motley Fool Pro Academy!


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