As my colleague Dan Caplinger noted earlier today, it's difficult to pinpoint just one reason the markets are falling today. Economic news has flowed from all around the world, and investors and have sent the markets sharply lower. As of 12:50 p.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has lost 189 points, or 1.25%, to fall back below the 15,000 mark. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) and the Nasdaq are both lower by about 1.3%. Only one of the Dow's 30 components is in the green at the time of writing, while the other 29 have all fallen substantially. With Cisco being the lone winner, up 0.9%, the next-best performer is Pfizer, which is down 0.4%.
Despite announcing what investors should see as good news today, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) and UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH ) are both being dragged down with the broader market. Shares of Microsoft are down 0.1.1%, while UnitedHealth has fallen 0.9%.
Microsoft's good news was that the company unveiled a new version of the Windows 8 operating system, dubbed Windows 8.1. The product will be released later this year for both PCs and tablets. It will bring back the traditional "Start" button, and a few other tweaks have been made to the software after the company listened to customers' complaints about the current version. The Windows 8 system was a big change from the older versions of Windows, so a few updates along the way should come as no surprise, and the fact that the company is listening to customers and adapting to their preferences shows that Microsoft still has the customer in mind.
UnitedHealth's good news was an increase to its current dividend and a renewed share repurchase program. The dividend was increased by 32%, or nearly $0.07. This is a sign that management feels confident in current revenue streams and has the shareholder in mind when making decisions. The share repurchase program was also authorized to buy back 110 million shares over time. And while I would personally rather see higher dividends than increased share buybacks, they are both good ways to return value to investors.
Shares of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) are down by 1.7% todat. Unlike the stocks I mentioned above, JPMorgan likely deserves this fall, as the bank has announced that it will forgive $842 million in debt it is owed by Jefferson Country, Ala. JPMorgan sold the county derivatives and swaps prior to the financial crisis so the municipality could finance a new sewer system. Since then, Jefferson County has filed for bankruptcy, and residents have seen their sewer bills increase. The bank could face up to a $1.5 billion loss related to this problem, but in the long run even that large amount shouldn't knock the bank off track. For more information about this issue, click here.