After the announcement from the Bank of Japan that it will hold firm with its economic stimulus, the U.S. markets headed south. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) closed the day down 116 points, or 0.76%, and now rests at 15,122. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq followed suit but went a little further, closing lower by 1.02% and 1.06%, respectively.
The decision to not increase government stimulus in Japan because of strong economic figures within the country gave U.S. investors more to fear from our own central bank and its stimulus plans. Many have speculated that the Federal Reserve will soon begin taking its foot off the gas in regard to its bond-buying programs for the same reason Japan's central bank has elected to not increase stimulus -- because of signs that the U.S. economy is improving. The move in Japan simply increased the fear on Wall Street.
Although the Dow itself fell lower today, three of its 30 components moved higher; UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) by the most, 0.39%, Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) by 0.18%, and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) rose 0.06%.
So what caused the moves?
UnitedHealth continued to show strength today because of the positive comments and target price increase from $72 a share to $79 from the Susquehanna Group yesterday. The company also recently increased its dividend by more than 30%, and shareholders as of June 12 will receive the higher payout on June 21, so that could be another reason investors were gobbling up shares today.
As for Pfizer, there was very little news pertaining to the company today, but its competitor and fellow Dow component Merck (NYSE: MRK ) saw its shares fall 1.86%. Investors could simply be trading one pharmaceutical company for another, which from a fundamental standpoint looks like the right play. Pfizer's current price-to-earnings ratio of 13.6 is way below Merck's 24.27. But both companies are facing some stiff headwinds in the coming years, which is one reason both have a forward P/E of just 12. The lack of blockbuster drugs in the short term and patent expirations will surely take their toll on the two companies, and investors should be ready for some volatility with both companies in the future.
Lastly, shares of Procter & Gamble may have received today's boost because of the increased number of job openings. Today's report of a 6.6% increase in April gives investors hope that in the coming months more Americans will have jobs, thus increasing consumer spending, and since Procter & Gamble is one of the world's largest consumer-products companies, it would be likely to benefit. As my Fool colleague Travis Hoium pointed out earlier today, Procter & Gamble makes a number of the products we all couldn't imagine living without, and although many Americans traded down during the recession, once they get back on their feet financially, P&G's brand power will probably win those customers back.
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