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Today, the Federal Reserve spoke, and investors didn't like what they heard. In what has become typical backwards fashion, the stock market responded negatively to the Fed's fairly positive assessment of future economic prospects, with calls for unemployment to fall to 6% within the next couple of years and for inflation to remain muted. Although the Fed didn't change its current trillion-dollar annual pace of bond purchases, most investors took the news as an indication that a reduction in those purchases is imminent, and the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) plunged 206 points in a broad-based sell-off that pulled every one of the Dow's 30 components lower.
When you think of prospective candidates to survive the worst of the Dow's carnage, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) wouldn't be on most people's lists. But HP was the best performer in the Dow today, losing only a single penny. With the company having replaced former personal-computer segment head Todd Bradley with Dion Weisler yesterday, HP now looks poised to salvage what it can from the struggling PC industry. Meanwhile, Bradley will turn his attention to moving forward with strategic-growth initiatives to capitalize on more promising prospects, such as emerging markets. These and other moves will present continuing challenges for HP, but in the long run, they should help the tech giant evolve into a company that's more likely to survive.
Also making the best of a bad day was Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) , which limited its losses to a third of a percent. The construction-equipment industry has had a bad few months, as weakness in the global economy has dampened levels of construction activity, leading rival Terex (NYSE: TEX ) to reduce its earnings guidance for the year. But if the Fed's assessment of the U.S. economy is correct, then Caterpillar's rise today might mark the beginning of an upturn for more cyclically focused stocks, defying the general good-news-is-bad-news sentiment that investors have adopted lately.
Finally, beyond the Dow, there were a few outright winners in today's market plunge. Qihoo 360 (UNKNOWN: QIHU.DL ) gained almost 3% as it continues to build its position in fighting against Chinese search market leader Baidu. Fool contributor Kevin Chen recently observed that in his opinion, Qihoo's products are inferior to Baidu's, but Qihoo has nevertheless successfully used its strength in antivirus software to make a powerful entry into search and browsers. As long as users want multiple options, Qihoo could become the permanent No. 2 in the market, and given the size of the Chinese Internet market, that's an enviable position to be in.
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