No Action From the Fed as the Dow Dives

Stocks are falling across the board today, and even after the Federal Reserve's decision this afternoon caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) to rise slightly, investors are seeing plenty of red. As of 2:15 p.m. EDT, the Dow has lost 100 points, or 0.68%. Disappointing earnings hit another pharmaceutical firm today, and financial stocks are also on the downturn. Here are the major stories you need to know.

No change of course for the Fed
No need to worry about the Federal Reserve taking some sort of market-shaking action: The Fed released its minutes at 2 p.m. EDT, announcing that it would continue its monetary policy for now. That decision was enough to spark a slight uptick in the indexes, but few on Wall Street had expected a major move from the central bank. With "QE infinity" working well and keeping the markets on a quick clip to start the year, the Fed is content to stick with what's working.

Stocks are taking a beating today, and earnings season is to blame for at least one big pharma player's losses. After Pfizer's disappointing report yesterday, Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) shares have taken a similar dive following the company's own downbeat earnings data. Shares of the firm have fallen 3% to rank among the worst Dow laggards despite the company's announcement that it has approved a $15 billion share buyback plan. That wasn't enough to overcome sales falling 9% for the quarter, with even star diabetes drug Januvia seeing revenue fall 4%. Merck still has plenty going for it, but the company's reduced full-year outlook won't inspire investors.

Meanwhile, the financial sector is getting a beating courtesy of the slowdown in private-sector employment in April. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) shares have fallen 1.1% so far, while JPMorgan's (NYSE: JPM  ) stock also ranks among the laggards of the Dow, dropping 1.7%. Some analysts expect more job cuts in this sector as B of A, JPMorgan, and other big banks try to boost profit. B of A's stock has had a particularly lackluster 2013, considering its huge gains last year. So long as the Federal Reserve keeps up its current policy, however, these stocks should continue to benefit.

Finally, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) shares have fallen 1.9% today, putting it near the bottom of the index as well. This company's earnings also disappointed investors, and the international slowdown in Europe, China, and other leading economies has crippled Caterpillar's outlook. While there are signs of hope for the firm in the U.S. housing rebound, until China's economy picks up steam from its current lackluster growth -- or until some other economic mover and shaker fills the void -- Caterpillar will continue to feel the pressure.

Nevertheless, Caterpillar 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 The Motley Fool's brand-new report. Just click here to access it now.


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