Dow Holds On to Gains, Banks Look for a Three-Peat

After a brief dip, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has resurfaced above the break-even mark and sits at a small gain as of 11:30 a.m. EDT. Investors are unsure of the impact of some mixed data on the market this morning, with the numbers implicating a shift in both international and U.S. financial affairs. One sector in the Dow got another earnings boost this morning with an outsider continuing the trend of better-than-expected results -- lifting the whole group.

Mixed results 
Retail sales data for June was released earlier this morning, showing only a slight rise of 0.4%. Though this result marks the third consecutive month of growing sales, the number missed estimates, which were double the actual growth. Though consumer income has been rising, as evidenced by earlier data releases, retail sales have lagged as consumer sentiment is still wary about the future of the economy.
Last week's report on sentiment showed that most families are unsure of the progress the economy will make in the next six months, which may be a leading factor in why retail sales are still slow to take off.

News from overseas also has investors wondering about the state of China's economy. The People's Republic reported that its GDP growth slowed yet again to 7.5% in the second quarter. This decline from the first quarter's 7.7% marks the lowest year-over-year growth for the country since last year's third quarter. But the markets so far have responded positively to the news, since estimates had expected an even lower result.

Bankable results
The banking sector jumped this morning after Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) reported stellar second-quarter earnings that handily beat analyst estimates. Though the market has shed some of its initial excitement over the banking sector continuing to show strength in the face of challenging economic conditions, investors are looking forward to Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) reporting earnings on Wednesday, with the hopes that B of A will provide a three-peat. JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM  ) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) both reported analyst-estimate-beating results on Friday, starting off the financial sector's earnings season with a bang.

As investors continue to watch throughout the rest of earnings season, keep in mind that there are more challenges ahead for the banks as we near the mark set for Fed stimulus-tapering. Though it will be a transition period filled with volatility and challenges, long-term investors shouldn't get flustered. With a focus on your initial investment thesis, use the current season's earnings reports to analyze how management handles challenges, how the banks' operations can offset some setbacks, and how likely the banks' business is to succeed in a higher-rate environment. In their most recent earnings reports, the banks have provided both a reason to celebrate the success so far as well as food for thought as the market moves forward.

Many investors are terrified about investing in big banking stocks after the crash, but the sector has one notable standout. In a sea of mismanaged and dangerous peers, it rises above the rest as "The Only Big Bank Built to Last." You can uncover the top pick that Warren Buffett loves in The Motley Fool's new report. It's free, so click here to access it now.


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