Why the Dow Is Falling Behind This Morning

Usually, major market benchmarks trade roughly in tandem, as the same factors that affect one industry tend to affect them all to a greater or lesser extent. Today, though, you can see the disconnect among the most popular stock indexes as different industries post different levels of performance. Overall, the broad market is slightly weaker, with a rise in jobless claims offsetting strong gains in durable-goods orders and capital-goods purchasing activity. But while the Nasdaq has climbed 0.27% due largely to the 25% spike in Facebook shares, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) lags behind, falling a more substantial 0.37% points by 11 a.m. EDT.

Many of the stocks contributing the most to the Dow's losses are the same stocks that have struggled for a while now. Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) has fallen more than 2%, showing a complete lack of confidence among investors that the morning's economic data marks a turnaround in the foreseeable future. Following its earnings disappointment yesterday, a Wall Street analyst added insult to injury by downgrading the stock. Strength in the U.S. economy will help Caterpillar, but it really needs global expansion to resume in order to make the most of its profit opportunities.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) has also posted a decline, falling 1.8%. In restructuring its corporate structure, Microsoft clearly hopes to come out with products and services that will be better integrated with each other and take maximum advantage of technological advances it makes. Yet Facebook's strong results underscore the speed at which up-and-coming companies have challenged the business models of big tech stalwarts like Microsoft, further upping the pressure for Microsoft to become more efficient in capitalizing on opportunities in promising areas like the mobile space.

Despite the Dow's overall losses, though, a few Dow stocks have posted gains. Travelers (NYSE: TRV  ) is rising after a report from Fitch Ratings noted favorable trends in earnings throughout the property and casualty insurance sector. With past-year catastrophic events having helped companies boost premiums while loss experiences more recently have become favorable, Travelers and its industry peers have seen loss ratios plunge, boosting profits. The insurance industry tends to run in cycles like this, so investors shouldn't expect Travelers to stay this profitable forever. But after a tough couple of years for the industry, it's good for insurance company investors to see conditions finally improving.

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