The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has finally lost its momentum, staying near breakeven for most of today's trading session. The Federal Reserve's release of optimistic minutes at 2 p.m. EDT shook off the index's earlier losses, kicking the Dow up to slight gains. With all eyes on the Fed's minutes, tech stocks have helped keep the blue-chip index from slipping back into the red, particularly with Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ ) surprise jump. Let's catch up on the top stories of the day.
China dives, but the Fed keeps the Dow going
The day got off to a bad start for investors after China reported a 3.1% year-over-year drop in exports, shocking economists who had projected a rise. It was the worst decline in exports in more than three years for an economy that has heavily relied on trade for its rise to the world's economic elite, and an agency spokesperson for China's General Administration of Customs painted a downbeat picture of upcoming trade numbers, saying it "could be too optimistic" regarding export data in this year's third quarter.
The Fed later countered with the release of the minutes of its most recent meeting, which revealed that many policymakers in the central bank supported continuing bond-buying into 2014. Others favored tapering off quantitative easing later in the year, but the bank overall supported the idea that the economy will grow more robustly in 2014 and 2015 as the housing market rises and consumers find more wealth to spend.
That's good news for the financial sector, particularly after Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC ) stock spent all day near the bottom of the Dow. Shares of the big bank are still stuck in the red, down 1.1%, and evidence that some Fed policymakers were interested in tapering easing by the end of the year probably won't support optimism about the stock. To make matters worse, earlier today Swiss rival UBS leapfrogged the bank to become the world's largest wealth-manager.
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) has topped the Dow's ho-hum day so far, with shares up 2.6% to lead the blue-chip index. The company got a big boost earlier when Citi upgraded the volatile tech stock by two notches from "sell" to "buy." It's not a dip investors would be buying in on, considering HP's stock has risen a whopping 82% year to date, but the company has shown signs of life in its long recovery by shifting more toward data, cloud services, mobile, and other growth areas and away from the weakening PC business that still dominates its portfolio.
HP is hardly in the clear, but if the company can continue reducing its exposure to the PC market, this stock may offer value for long-term investors. HP has turned a profit in the last two quarters after the massive Autonomy writedown cost the firm billions of dollars, although its top line has declined in each of the last two quarters. The firm will have to turn that trend around if it wants to secure its recovery.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) is also helping tech advance today, ranking among the top Dow stocks with a 0.9% gain. CEO Steve Ballmer is reportedly set to announce Microsoft's restructuring tomorrow, according to The Wall Street Journal's tech site, AllThingsD. Company observers have criticized Microsoft's vast and varied product portfolio in recent years, with some calling for a breakup of certain units into subsidiaries in order to make the company more manageable. Considering Microsoft's lackluster launches of its Windows 8 operating system and Surface tablet, a shakeup seems to be the last thing this company needs.
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