Wal-Mart Tries to Hold Up the Dow, With Little Success

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) went into the Easter holiday weekend on a high note following several days of investor uncertainty, but has stumbled once more this morning following some surprising economic news. With only several of its component stocks in positive territory, the index has fallen 32 points so far in trading.

This morning's release of March's ISM manufacturing index data showed a decline that was not expected by most analysts. Falling from February's 54.2 to 51.3, the decrease indicates a slow expansion of the manufacturing sector. Investors may be getting concerned as the index nears the 50 mark, the reading that indicates expanding activity.

Other news this morning was more welcomed by investors -- construction spending increased in February as the housing market continues to rebound. Home building is at a four-year high, with increased permits and ground-breaking likely to continue. The housing market is one of the primary drivers of the U.S. economy, so continued improvements are a great sign to investors that the economy will continue to recover.

Winners
Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) is one of the Dow's biggest winners this morning, even though it can only boast a 1% increase. The megaretailer is planning on spending $80 million to improve its chain of Chinese stores, as the company begins to deny recent reports that it would be closing stores due to increased costs. The company will also be investing in a distribution network in China to improve its warehouses and reduce costs. The company continues to stand by its statement made last year that it will open 100 new stores over the next three years . Closer to home, Wal-Mart has reintroduced its gasoline discount for customers who use their gift cards and prepaid or credit cards. The discount ranges from $0.10 to $0.15 depending on which card the customer uses. The promotion will run through late July.

AT&T (NYSE: T  ) is also sitting at the top of the heap so far in trading, up 1.16%. The wireless provider is riding high on the news that it will be the exclusive retailer of the 64GB HTC One smartphone, with all other retailers getting access to the lower-capacity models. AT&T will also begin to carry Amazon.com's (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) Kindle Fire HD later this week. The newest Kindle has 4G LTE capabilities, expanding Amazon's reach into the tablet market and giving AT&T access to more data users. Perhaps one of the biggest draws to AT&T today is its announcement of a $0.45-per-share quarterly dividend and 300-million-share buyback plan. The dividend will be available to shareholders on record as of April 10.

Bottom of the barrel
Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) is down 2% this morning, maintaining its trend as a Dow loser. With the stock down 3% in the first quarter of the year , investors are beginning to question whether Alcoa's declines signal a global slowdown. Analysts at Goldman Sachs recently released a report that lowered their estimates for Alcoa's EPS due to cost management concerns. The company was previously able to cut costs in order to maintain its profitability, but with pressure on aluminum prices, there's doubt that cost-cutting will be easy going forward.

Materials industries are traditionally known for their high barriers to entry, and the aluminum industry is no exception. Controlling about 15% of global production in this highly consolidated industry, Alcoa is in prime position to take advantage of growth that some expect will lead to total industry revenue approaching $160 billion by 2017. Based on this prospect and several other company-specific factors, Alcoa is certainly worth a closer look. For a Foolish investment perspective on this global giant, simply click here now to get started.


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